09 AUG 2012 Feature London, UK

Ole Miss Reese wins again

Brittney Reese of the United States in action in the Women's Long Jump Final on Day 12 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 8, 2012 (Getty Images)Brittney Reese of the United States in action in the Women's Long Jump Final on Day 12 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 8, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
No, that’s neither a sexist nor an ageist headline. It simply references Olympic women’s Long Jump champion Brittney Reese as one of the most famous alumni of the University of Mississippi, known affectionately as ‘Ole Miss’.

Reese, 25, was always going to be a good bet to win Olympic gold this year, following her inexorable rise after a fifth place in Beijing 2008. She has gone on to win all four World titles, indoors and out, since then.

For good measure, Ms Reese, who was born in Inglewood, California, became the longest female broad jumper in over 20 years, when she cleared 7.23 metres at the World Indoor Champs, breaking Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s US/Area record.

Like Ivan Ukhov, Olympic men’s High Jump champion, Reese originally majored in basketball, getting a two-year scholarship to a community college in Mississippi. She switched to Ole Miss for another couple of years, and was contemplating another basketball scholarship when her mother weighed in.

“I had offers from other colleges, like Clemson (S. Carolina basketball powerhouse), and others, but it was my mom’s decision. Mom (Carla) loved Ole Miss, and she told me to do track. And mom knows best, so that’s what I did”.

Shortly afterwards, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast; and though they weren’t the worst affected, it was bad enough.

“We were living in a mobile home for two months. We didn’t have amenities, we didn’t have hot water. It was a real eye-opener. It made me more aware of a whole lot of things.

“I wanted to give something back, to the community; and I went to Beijing in 2008, planning to get a medal, and I finished fifth. I was devastated. I cried all the way back to the village. The whole Gulf coast had supported me, and I wanted to give them something back.”

Reese did find a novel way of giving something back last year. On Thanksgiving Day, she donated 100 turkeys to homeless and religious organisations in her home town of Gulfport. But now she has given them a gold medal.

Despite that impressive list of titles over the last three years, Reese has got a reputation as an ‘all or nothing’ jumper. For example, she won the World title in Daegu last year with a single valid jump.

And this time, her second jump of 7.12 metres was one only two valid attempts, but it proved the winner.

“Yesterday (qualifying), I had some minor fouls, and that could have given me problems, but today my whole approach was different. The idea was just to run full speed and jump, and that’s why I had so many more fouls than I usually do.

“My main purpose was to gun it, and get a good one in. I knew I needed to do seven metres even to get on the medal stand, and I knew what I needed to do in order to win.

“After I fouled the first (attempt), I knew if I took it back a little bit, it would be a good jump. I thought it was about 7.05, and I was surprised to see 7.12. I thought it might hold, and I was glad it did. Elena (Sokolova, silver medallist) scared me a bit with 7.07, but it held up.

“This was a great way to bring something back (to the Gulf), to show that we can really do something together.”

Reese departed for a family celebration sounding like a US Presidential candidate (to which she replied, ‘I wish’), when she told us, “Four more years. I’m going to carry on, and I want to win it again the next time.”

Pat Butcher for the IAAF

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