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Sprinter's dream comes true in Athens

Otis Harris, Jr., silver medallist in the 400 meters, embodies the Olympic ideal. NBC's Rehema Ellis reports from Athens.

Otis Harris, Jr.'s high school in Edwards, Mississippi didn't have a track, but he got to the Olympics and won a silver medal in the 400 meters. He's a perfect example of what the games are all about — hard work, dedication, and people who believe in dreams.

Folks in Edwards, Mississippi call 22-year-old Harris a “preacher's boy.” On Good Hope Road, in a town of just 461 homes, Otis Harris learned about sprinting.

"We marked 100 meters from one to 600 and that's where he would go out and do his training, after practice at school," remembers his father, Otis Harris, Sr.

His 84-year-old grandmother, Ida Harris, helped raise him.

"He looked to be healthy and strong and happy," she says.

He was also a dreamer.

"Back in 1996, when Michael Johnson had on the gold shoes and I had the picture on the wall… It was just like imagining myself in that USA body suit, running across the line and holding my hands up. So when I say it's a dream, it’s truly a dream," says Harris.

So, at 14, Otis Jr. started to run. Since then, he's trained hard, with one goal in mind.

"He told his dad the night before the (Olympic trials), 'when the gun goes off, daddy, I’m running all the way to Athens,'" says Otis' mom Cheryl Harris.

And he did. It was a stunning finish as he became the only Olympian ever from Edwards.

"This is months, months, of work, months and months of buildup, you know, working hard and praying and that's where it came from," said Harris after qualifying at the Olympic trials in Sacramento this summer.

He learned the discipline at home and church. A church-full of prayers were said for Otis, Jr.'s journey — a journey he helped his parents to make.

"He is a superstar, he really, truly is a superstar in every syllable of the word… and those that line up against him, they'll tell you that too," says Otis, Sr.

Monday night, in a little more than 44 seconds, Otis, Jr., the small town hero — just like in his dream — blazed across the finish line. Up in the stands was his old hero, Michael Johnson. 

Now, he has one more race to run — the 400 meter relay. He’ll get some help there. It will be a team effort for the gold. And for the believers — with powerful prayers from Edwards — help may also come from above.