Brittney Reese on her start in long jump, the 2008 Games and tattoos
Brittney Reese started in long jump when her high school coach needed jumpers
After placing 5th, Reese discusses how the 2008 Games was a difficult meet
Reese describes the significance of her seven tattoos, and plans for more
Brittney Reese is a two-time world outdoor champion in the long jump and the four-time reigning U.S. champion. Fifth at her first Olympics in 2008, Reese, 25, is one of the biggest track and field favorites for gold as the London Olympics approach. She spoke with SI.com over the phone about her history in the event, personality and lead-up to the London Games ...
SI.com: Can you recount the story of how you started long jumping?
Brittney Reese: It started in 11th grade when I was doing the 400 (meters), and I was just coming out of basketball season. My coach, who was Chris Jones, took the basketball team out to the track to try and find him a long jumper. And he wasn't letting me jump because I had the 400, so he let all my teammates go. I just asked him over and over again to let me at least try. He kept telling me, 'No.' I kept asking him, and he finally let me try, and when I got there I jumped far. He told me that he couldn't believe it, and he made me go back and do it all over again. But the main thing was, he was like, "Whoever can come out here and jump the farthest wins a Coke." So after I jumped that, he told me to go back and do it again. It was like 18 feet. That's how I started doing the long jump. Of course, I won the Coke, jumping the farthest.
SI.com: How talented were you in basketball?
Reese: I was pretty decent. I made the all-star team for my junior college, the All-Region team. I had offers (to play at small four-year schools), but my mom wanted me to go to Ole Miss to run track. So I listened to her.
SI.com: You're a student of the long jump. How does that fit in with your training?
Reese: I study film all the time. My main (role model) is Jackie Joyner-Kersee. She was a great competitor, and I watch her videos. I also watch Carl Lewis and Bob Beamon, the (former) world-record holder, and I watched Carl Lewis and Mike Powell in the same competition when they went back and forth (the 1991 world championships). I will always watch that because it inspires me.
SI.com: Getting to talk to Jackie Joyner-Kersee before this year's world championships, what questions did you have for her?
Reese: I asked her, "How do you handle pressure?" knowing that I won the world championship (in 2009). She basically told me I need to take my mind off of it, that I know what I can do. All I have to do is just go out there and do it. I don't have nothing to prove to nobody. I shouldn't worry about my competition. I shouldn't let it get to my head. Just go out there, do what I was supposed to do, come out of there with a medal.
SI.com: What's it like having a guy like Joe Walker as a coach the last five years, a guy who's been teaching Olympians since the 1970s?
Reese: He's a real big impact in my life. He's mainly like a dad to me. He knows what I'm doing wrong. When I do a jump, he can automatically tell what was wrong. During competitions he doesn't talk to me that much because he's more nervous than I am. But he's a great guy, and I wouldn't trade him for anything in the world. We've been through a lot together.
SI.com: You led the qualifying at the 2008 Olympics, but you were fifth in the finals. What happened?
Reese: When I made my first Olympic team, I was young. I had just finished college, so I had so many meets that year that in the final round (in Beijing), I was tired. My legs were giving out. (At Ole Miss) I did the long jump, the high jump, the 4x100m (relay) and occasionally the triple jump. By the time the Olympics came around, my body was tired. I know my reasons for not performing that well. I was just tired.
SI.com: Emotionally, what effect did not performing well have on you?
Reese: I was devastated because I knew I had a great opportunity to get on the podium, and I didn't. That was the most devastating loss (of my career). I actually kind of cried. I knew I didn't do to the best of my ability, and I came up short and got fifth. I was devastated and heartbroken for that. I cried on the bus on the way back to the (athletes') village. I sat in a seat by myself and just had a little bit of tears falling, but I wasn't openly emotional.
SI.com: What did Beijing teach you that you can take into 2012?
Reese: I'm going to do what I've been doing. I don't see any reason to back off anything, because what I've been doing now is working. I'm going to start off with a little bit of jumping indoor season, and then I'm going to do some meets to where I know by the time the Olympic trials come I can have a peak performance like I have been having the past two, three years now. It's all about timing, to time yourself to when the big meet comes, the Olympics, the Olympic trials, to have your best performance of the year.
SI.com: Do you size up your biggest rivals?
Reese: I feel my competition is myself, but I also know that in the long jump it only takes one jump. It doesn't matter who is in the competition, somebody will come out and have a breakout meet. That's what I like about the long jump. It can go back and forth until the final round. In the final round, it's just a matter of who's hungry and who wants it more. I know my competition, but I also put it in my head knowing that it only takes one jump. It doesn't matter if it's the past Olympic champion, past world champion. It can be somebody small from a country nobody has ever heard of that can put out a personal best and beat you.
SI.com: You've dabbled in the 100 meters with a personal best of 11.2, wind aided. Is there any chance you give sprinting more emphasis in the future?
Reese: I run the 100 meter now every now and then in a meet, but as far as doing it on an elite level, probably not. They're running tremendously fast. I'd have to drop my time. I run OK, but on an elite level and to make a team on it, I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen. In 2013, me and my coach decided I'm going to try and do the high jump. Not a whole lot, not to make a team or anything, but to get into a rhythm of high jumping because I used to high jump (at Ole Miss).
SI.com: I've noticed from TV you have tattoos. What are they, and what do they mean to you?
Reese: I have tons of tattoos. I have on my right wrist, 'Philippians 4:13,' basically that says I can do all things through Christ. That's my favorite tattoo. On my other wrist, I have the word, 'Believe' with a moon and a star on it. The reason I have that tattoo is my mom gave me a necklace, and it had the word 'Believe' on it, and it had the moon and star, but the necklace I had broke. I just never got it fixed. I like the necklace, so I just got it tattooed.
I have the Olympic rings on my chest with the word 'Beast.' My nickname for track and field, I got it in college, is B-Reese the Beast. I have track shoes and some footprints on my back left shoulder from when my great grandma died. She is the reason why we moved to Gulfport (Miss.). She passed away a few years ago, and I got that because her favorite song was 'Order My Steps.'
Now I have a cross with a dove under it, and that symbolizes everyone that I've known that has passed away, on my right arm. On the inside of my arm, I have 'Born a Champion.' I got that because I feel that I have been successful all my life. I just got that because I like those words. On my stomach, I have 'Live Life Love Family.' That's just mainly because I'm a family person. I base my life around my family.
SI.com: Do you have plans for more tattoos?
Reese: I've thought about getting something to represent London if I win the Olympics. I will also try to incorporate a diamond in it for winning the first Diamond League (series title).