A number of the people who were there at the beginning of Merritt’s quest gathered together to watch the 27-year-old east Cobb product achieve Olympic gold Wednesday on the big screens at Mazzy’s Sports Bar & Grill on Roswell Road.
The crowd, which included Merritt’s uncle, his former high school coach, as well a number of relatives and former Wheeler teammates, erupted as Merritt crossed the finish line with a personal-best 12.92 seconds to win the men’s 110 hurdles gold medal.
With his gold medal, Merritt finished in the footsteps of his Wheeler teammate Reggie Witherspoon, who was on the U.S. 400-meter relay team that claimed gold at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
It was a proud moment for Wheeler coach Greg Mitchell, who coached both Merritt and Witherspoon on the Wildcats’ 2003 state championship team.
“There are not too many high school coaches who can say that they actually coached someone who has made it to this level, to the Olympics and to be a champion,” Mitchell said. “So, it’s an absolute blessing to have it happen and to have it happen twice, because we had Reggie Witherspoon do it in 2008. We’re the only program in the state to have two Olympic gold medalists on the same team. This is just a tremendous amount of pride and an honor to just be a small part of his success. He represented Wheeler High School, the Atlanta area and the state of Georgia as well as the United States of America well.”
Merritt’s uncle, Marvin Hubbard, was also in attendance to watch his nephew achieve his ultimate dream.
“We’re so excited,” Hubbard said. “I’m just so happy for Aries. This achievement (Wednesday) has been in the making for some time. He had some injuries that set him back. (Now), all of that is behind. It’s just a great achievement. We had relatives come in from Texas, Mississippi and Illinois to join us and we’re just overwhelmed. We’re looking forward to having him come back and having a big celebration to welcome him back home. It all came together and I’m so proud of his achievement.”
Raven Warren, a longtime friend and a track teammate of Merritt’s at Wheeler, was watching Merritt win his gold medal, just like she did in 2008 when Witherspoon claimed his gold in Beijing.
“It was only my second time watching this — the last Olympics, I saw Reggie Witherspoon win a gold medal,” Warren said. “To see those guys grow up, it’s so exciting to see them chase their dreams and see their dreams come true. We grew up together and we knew each other for like 12 or 13 years before we went to high school. He taught me a lot about track when we were at Wheeler. It was amazing to see this happen.”
Darnell Shepherd, who has known Merritt since they were in middle school, expressed his pride in his longtime friend’s achievement.
“It was excellent,” Shepherd said. “It couldn’t have happened top a better person. I’ve known Aries since the seventh grade and I was a teammate of his, so I know all the hard work he’s put in and I can’t think of anyone who’s more deserving.”
Brandon Carter, who was a freshman on Wheeler’s 2003 state title team when Merritt was a senior, was also excited to see his ex-teammate claim Olympic gold.
“It’s great to see someone who you have known for a long time succeed like that,” Carter said. “I knew he’s always worked hard and his success is a result of all the hard work he’s put in, especially at a young age.”