If you want a guaranteed gold at a major championships, then the most reliable athlete to call upon is US long jumper Brittney Reese. SPIKES catches up with Reese about an amazing career so far, her big ambitions for 2014 – and why she hasn’t enjoyed greater plaudits for her success.
Invincible at championship level for the past five years, it is one of the sport’s great puzzles that long jumper Brittney Reese does not have a higher profile.
The world outdoor champion in 2009, 2011 and 2013; world indoor champion in 2010 and 2012; London 2012 Olympic gold medallist – Reese has owned her event for the past five seasons.
She has more world long jump titles then Carl Lewis, Mike Powell or Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Yet despite the seven national titles, the remarkable consistency, and glut of 7-metre plus jumps – she has not enjoyed the same public profile of other US jumping greats.
Does Reese, 27, believe she has been given enough recognition?
“Not at all,” she tells SPIKES firmly. “I don’t live my life and jump for the recognition, but very few people realise what I’ve done,” says Reese, who was born in California but raised in Gulfport, Mississippi.
“I think athletics focuses more on the sprinters, and because I’m a jumper, nobody cares. It is kind of sad.”
It is kind of sad.
A gifted basketball player as a youngster, it was Reese’s grandmother who encouraged her to compete in athletics, because: “she figured I would be decent at it.”
Granny was spot on. Initially starring as a high jumper, only later did Reese convert to the long jump. She combined athletics and basketball at her community college, until her mum made the ultimate call on the direction of her sporting career.
“I chose track because of mom,” says Reese. “She told me, if I was successful, I had to do it on my own [in an individual sport]. Of course, she was a big part of my life, so I agreed.”
@DaLJBeast leaps to Olympic long jump gold in London
In 2007, Reese emerged as a potential star when aged 20, she finished second in the long jump at both the NCAA and US national championships. She ended her break-through year by finishing eighth at the Osaka 2007 World Championships.
Next season, Reese landed NCAA titles both indoors and out, and also snared the US title courtesy of a personal best of 6.95m. She even won NCAA indoor high jump bronze.
After qualifying for her first Olympics, Reese placed fifth in Beijing.
“I didn’t do as well as I thought I would, but I learned there that I could compete with the best,” she says. “All I had to do was to be was patient, and have fun. I was doing something that I love to do: to jump.”
In 2009 Reese smashed through the 7-metre barrier for the first time (7.06m in Belem) and retained her US title with a wind-aided 7.09m.
At that year’s world champs in Berlin she announced herself as a bona fide championship performer to win gold with 7.10m.
“I knew if I needed to achieve the things I wanted to in my event, I needed to break the 7m barrier,” she says. “I gained a lot of confidence from 2009.”
Since then she has proved flawless on the championship stage. World titles have been collected with metronomic regularity, and her desire to improve is remorseless.
Last October she left her long-time coach Joe Walker and relocated from Mississippi to San Diego, to be guided by Jeremy Fischer. This year she secured a hat-trick of world long jump titles in Moscow, and also set a lifetime best of 7.25m in Doha to climb third on the US all-time lists.
Moscow number five: Reese celebrates her fifth straight world title (indoor and outdoor)
Her victory in the Russian capital came with a large dollop of good fortune. Reese qualified for the final in 12th and last, only squeezing into the final by virtue of boasting a superior second-best jump to her US team-mate Funmi Jimoh, who was eliminated from the competition.
This wasn’t the first time that Reese had flirted with danger. At the Daegu 2011 World Championships she needed her third and final attempt to progress. At the London 2012 Olympics she advanced to the final as the eighth best qualifier.
The question is: why does an athlete with such a majestic record so often flirt with danger in qualifying?
“I don’t enjoy it,” she says. “It is pretty difficult for me. In Moscow, I was putting too much pressure on myself. I knew I could easily get the qualification mark but I was thinking about it too much and did not run as fast as I was supposed to. I thought it was easy, when I should have been a lot bigger than that.”
Proof that even the finest in the sport can make mistakes, but true to form Reese was back to her best in the final.
For her, better never stops. Based at the Olympic Training Centre in San Diego, Reese taps into the very best of biomechanical and nutritional advice, and believes she has made technical advancements under the coaching of Fischer.
Reese also hopes to improve her strength in the gym this winter.
The primary aim for 2014 is to mount a successful defence of her world indoor title in Sopot, Poland. The second is to jump long, and make a big dent in the record books.
“I believe I’ve got better each year I’ve been a professional,” she says. “I just hope to try and dominate like I’ve dominated in the past.”
“I feel I can break the American record of [7.49m held by Jackie Joyner-Kersee] and after that go for the world record [of 7.52m]. If I’m going to do it next year, after the world indoors is the best chance I have to do it.”