For USA’s Brittney Reese, ‘The Beast’ was born in college but bred in Beijing.
After placing fifth at the 2008 Olympics in the Chinese capital, the long jumper rode back to the athletes’ village. “As I sat on the bus, I cried because I was so disappointed,” she recalls. “I had never reacted like that before. I decided right then that I never wanted to feel like that again.”
Thus was born a competitive fire that the Mississippi-raised jumper only stoked in following years as she developed the uncanny ability to rise to every competitive occasion – and titles at the Olympics and IAAF World Championships indoors and out, as well as the USA Championships, followed as a result.
Reese’s competitiveness often shows itself most spectacularly in the fifth or sixth rounds. She won world indoor titles in 2012 and 2016 on her sixth leap, as well as the US Championships in 2008, 2011 and 2012. She also claimed silver medals on her fifth attempts at the 2016 Rio Olympics and this year’s USA Championships.
Of course, Reese has won plenty of titles with early-round efforts, too. And it was back early in her college career at the University of Mississippi that she won the long, triple and high jumps at the same meeting. That led a teammate to dub her ‘B-Reese Da Beast’ and the nickname stuck.
“I have also been called ‘The Sixth-Round Knock-Out Queen’,” she says. “I always want to be known as the person who gets it done when it matters most.”
At perhaps no other competition is Reese at her fiercest than at IAAF championships. She has competed at six outdoor and three indoor global affairs, winning at all three of her indoor appearances.
But it was her sixth outdoor performance this summer in London that made history. Reese claimed her fourth title, becoming the first woman to win that many outdoor long jump victories and only the second overall behind New Zealand’s Valerie Adams, who scored four consecutive shot put triumphs between 2007 and 2013.
“Winning at the championships is what you work so hard for,” Reese explains. “Starting in October or November, you work hard all the way to get to the championship 10 months later. The goal always is to come out and get a gold medal. That is the day to do it. I feel like I’m always well-prepared heading into the major championships.”
Reese had another, far more personal, motivation to do well in London: her grandfather, King David Dunomes, had passed away at age 86 just a few weeks before the World Championships.
“He was my mentor and my No.1 fan,” says Reese. “He lived in Gulfport, Mississippi, where I grew up. He was the first person to call all the rest of the family whenever one of my meets was on television so that everybody could watch.”
She wrote his name on the inside of her bib in London. “To have him in my heart – and to know what a good group of jumpers were competing – I’m so glad I came out with the gold again.”
While she knows how to drop the hammer on her foes late in a competition, in London Reese spanned her winning 7.02m distance on her third effort. Then she had to wait through the second half of the jumping.
She laughs. “That was tough because I kind of thought that distance wasn’t going to be enough. I know my competitors, and on any given day, 7.00m is the mark everybody wants to get. I also knew that most any of them could get 7.00m on that particular day.
“So it was good that my mark held up. But I’m confident that if I had needed to go farther, I could have.”
In a turn of the tables, Reese had to watch eventual second-place finisher Darya Klishina reach 7.00m on her fifth jump to claim the silver medal and then have US teammate Tianna Bartoletta span 6.97m on her final effort to earn the bronze.
Reese appreciates having Bartoletta – who claimed victories ahead of her at both the 2016 Olympic Games and this year’s US Championships – as her prime domestic challenger.
“It’s good to have Tianna to jump against, because she is a great competitor,” says Reese. “When the greats of the past set world records, they had their biggest rivals to push them. Jackie [Joyner-Kersee] had [Germany’s Heike] Drechsler. Tianna helps me be better and I help her be better. And we’re going to be here for the long haul.”
And just how long is that haul? Reese smiles but states definitively: “My goal is the 2020 Olympics and then I’m done.” Now 31, Reese will be nearing 34 when the Tokyo Games come around.
Of course, as defending champion she will have a wildcard entry for the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Doha. But how about sticking around for the 2021 edition in Eugene, the first to be staged in the US?
She still smiles, but says with the same certainty: “Oh, no. 2020 is it.”
Asked how she maintains her supremacy season after season, Reese says: “Mentally and physically, I’m strong. I’ve got a great coach to prepare me in Jeremy Fischer [head coach at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center, southeast of San Diego]. He prepares me to be physically strong.
“We may alter some things in the off-season since I’m getting older. But other than that, I continue to feel strong. And mentally I have a life coach who helps me twice a week. So I’m good.”
The 41-year-old Fischer, a 2.29m high jumper in his competitive days while standing just 1.75m tall, has coached other notable athletes, including world and Olympic triple jump silver medallist Will Claye.
“To have a coach like him, who is so knowledgeable about the sport and the events, and who knows the limits that come with age, is tremendous,” says Reese. “He does a great job of holding me back on some things and yet pushing me towards different goals.”
The pair even can have their own good-natured competitions to enliven their athlete-coach relationship. “We had a bet in London: $1000 for me to break the championship record [7.36m by Joyner-Kersee dating back to the 1987 edition in Rome].
“I didn’t get that record so I didn’t owe him the money. But what I did was buy him pair of Air Jordans. Every time I win, I buy him some shoes. In London, I won the gold medal and he got some new Air Jordans. So we both won!”
Jon Hendershott for the IAAF