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Long Jumper Brittney Reese Inches Closer to Olympic Dream

Sandra Knispel

With the 2012 Summer Olympics barely eight weeks away, many U.S. athletes still need to qualify for their ticket to London… among them Mississippian Brittney Reese.

Reese is not just any Olympic-hopeful, she's also the current long jump world champion and record holder.

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. 

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

In March, the Gulfport-native successfully defended her title at the World Indoor Championships in Instanbul, Turkey, with a new North American Record, 7.23 meters!

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,” Reese explained.  “When I got on the plane it said, ‘Congratulations, Ms. Indoor Champion and American Record holder.’”

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 her entire career 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,’” Reese said.

With long, slim legs, square shoulders and torso, Reese has the build of a natural athlete. Playing basketball on school teams since fourth 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.”  Reese explains, “And basically I just kept begging him and begging him to let me jump. It was like a 17-foot jump. 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 10 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.

And this time, Reese has promised herself there won’t be any tears of disappointment at the Olympics. Four years after placing fifth in Beijing, Reese says she's has figured out how to win: “Have fun and do what I do best,” she says.