Long Jumper Brittney Reese Preparing for London Olympics

By Sandra Knispel | Published 03 Jun 2012 07:06pm | comments

This weekend proved difficult for one of the brightest track and field stars in the Magnolia state, placing a disappointing 7thin the international Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. With the 2012 Summer Olympics barely eight weeks away, many U.S. athletes are still facing their official qualifiers for London later this month… among them Mississippi’s long jumper Brittney Reese. But as MPB’s Sandra Knispel reports, despite the disappointment this weekend, Reese’s competitors know better than to underestimate the current world champion.

Training jumps are understated affairs for Brittney Reese. No dramatic spray of sand, just a dull thud and a quick word between athlete and trainer. Neither she, nor her coach, Joe Walker, is of the loquacious sort. Today, Reese is working on speed training, sprinting alternating distances.

Coach/Brit use talk: “We’re gonna start on that far end because the wind is coming  this other direction. Do sets of 40s and 60s.” Reese: “Ok.”

The full throttle of Reese’s gravity-defying flights is reserved for competitions when the adrenaline kicks in.

[nat sound televison sportscaster] “This is her final jump. Can she get her title for the second time? Oh, that was a monster jump! Absolutely massive!"

That was at the World Indoor Championships in March of this year in Istanbul, Turkey, where the Gulfport-native successfully defended her title.

[nat sound television sportscaster]: “7.23 [meters]! A new championship record, a new North American record! Now that is a fantastic jump! The jump of her lifetime …. It’s better than her best outdoor jump of 7.19. It’s the longest jump in the world for a very long time. It’s actually the third on the world all-time indoor list. Wow!

Oh, and speaking of records, when Reese broke the American Indoor long jump mark held for over a decade by a famous world athlete, true sportsmanship prevailed:

“Jackie Joyner-Kersee texted me. When I got on the plane it said, ‘Congratulations, Ms. Indoor Champion and American Record holder,’ “ Reese recalls.

Reporter: “So, she’s rooting for you?” Reese: “She’s been rooting for me for a while now. And if you have a person like that on your side it’s, it’s an honor.”

Officially, the 25-year old still has to qualify for London. Given her record, her likelihood of success is like her leaps: gigantic. More improbable, but nevertheless true, is that it all started over a can of soda.

 “My track coach took the basketball team out to the field and basically said “Whoever can jump the furthest gets a coke.’ “

With long, slim legs, square shoulders and torso, Reese has the build of a natural athlete. Playing basketball on school teams since 4th grade, she had dabbled in the 400 meters, just to keep fit when the coke episode happened. Even then her career nearly got scuppered by the track coach.

“He wouldn’t let me go, because I was already competing in the 400. And basically I just kept begging him and begging him to let me jump. It was like a 17 foot jump," says Reese. "And then he told me to go back and do it again. And I did it again. And it was about the same or maybe a little more. So, basically that’s how I won the coke and won the long jump.”

That was ten years ago. Reese’s mom persuaded her to ditch basketball, her first love, for the long jump. Since then, her rise has been steep; now she frequently jumps over 23 feet at competitions. At the Beijing Olympics four years ago, lack of experience, not lack of talent kept her off the podium, says her trainer, Ole Miss track and field head coach, Joe Walker.

“She had one jump that was a very small fault that would have won the competition. And I think she just did not have the experience to handle that at the time," Walker recalls. "And I think after that she started pressing just a little bit, and then trying to make it happen and got a little, tiny bit flustered.”

Reese, who turned pro in 2008 and graduated with a degree in English last year, still trains at Ole Miss two to three hours every day. Her relationship with her coach is close.

“You know sometimes to be great in athletics – it almost forces you to be selfish. And she’s not. She’s very humble, she’s very caring about other people. If you walked in on any given day you wouldn’t immediately determine that she was the world champion in the room,” Walker says of Reese.

Not much for words, the five-foot-eight Reese is a self-described homebody who much prefers computer games and time with family to going out. Instead her skin tells her story, adorned with tattoos that chronicle her life.

 “All my tattoos mean something, but the one on my right arm has a cross and that’s for all my family members that has [sic] passed away. And then on the inside of my arm it says, ‘Born a champion’. And that’s just because I think I was born a champion, because I’ve been winning for a while.”

Reporter: “And then there’s also something for your mom.” Reese: “Yes, I have a tattoo on my chest with a heart and a flower, it has my mom’s name on it. She’s like one of my favorite persons [starts laughing].”

Maybe, this one best sums up her ambition.

“On the left side of my chest I have the Olympic rings inside of a beast. And on the top of the rings it says ‘Da beast,’ which is my nickname I got here at Ole Miss. B Reese Da Beast.”

And this time, the beast has promised herself there won’t be any hot tears of disappointment on the Olympic team bus after the event. Four years after placing 5th in Beijing, Reesesays she's figured out how to win: “Have fun and do what I do best,” she says. [nat sound running, jumping, landing, brushing sand off legs]

Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Oxford.

 

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