Brittney Reese’s return to the top of the women’s long jump wasn’t complete until her final attempt of the competition at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 on Friday night (18).
Trailing Ivana Spanovic, who had reached a Serbian record of 7.07m in the fifth round, Reese hit the board at full flight and posted a world-leading jump of 7.22m, the best indoor performance since Reese herself jumped 7.23m to win the 2012 world indoor title
The American sprung out of the pit, briefly checked the mark to admire her work, before breaking into a celebratory jog.
The gold medal is Reese’s seventh of her career, but the first since a hip injury took her from being one of the most dominant athletes in athletics to one on the brink of retirement.
“I thought about retiring plenty of times because I couldn’t stay healthy and it had me in a bad spot,” admitted Reese.
In 2013, Reese tore the labrum in her hip during a competition. She continued to compete with the injury, but was unable to return to the form that had helped her to a run of five consecutive years of major championship victories.
Reese decided to have surgery in 2014 but the recovery took longer than she expected. Although she finished second at the US Championships last year, jumping 6.97m, at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015, she hit the low point of her international career and did not advance out of the qualifying round, snapping her streak of three consecutive world championship victories.
“It took me two years just to get back to where I was. I couldn’t stay healthy last year at all and finally I had to just step back and see why I really love the sport and work extra hard on getting healthy,” she added, speaking in the Oregon Convention Center after possibly the most satisfying victory of all her triumphs.
Building for the future
This hard work was focused on rebuilding an athlete who ruled over her event like few before her had ever done.
Reese broadened her focus beyond just the physical rehabilitation, meeting with a sports psychologist and life coach in hopes of recapturing her confidence.
Finally, this year, she turned the corner. She jumped 6.81m in February and 6.89m to win the US Championships last weekend. Still, she felt she was capable of more and said she’d jumped seven meters in practice.
On Friday, it felt like 2012 again, the year she jumped her lifetime best of 7.23m.
Early in the competition, Spanovic and Reese separated themselves from the field. Spanovic opened with a 7.00m jump, while Reese trailed close behind with a 6.97m. Those positions held until the fifth round when Reese leapt 7.00m, only to be outdone by Spanovic’s 7.07m.
This set the stage for Reese’s final jump. Amidst the pandemonium of the women’s pentathlon final, Reese controlled her speed on the runway and took off.
“I feel like I had it all along,” said Reese. “I was having trouble getting on the board and I was having trouble putting my feet down and just getting up under myself, and it just so happened that I put it all together on the last jump.”
After Spanovic’s last jump didn’t reach seven metres, Reese’s victory was official.
“I put everything I had left into that jump and it’s just a great feeling to come back out after two bad years that I’ve had.”
“It (winning a competition on her last attempt) actually happened last indoor, the last time I competed in 2012. It puts you in a tough position, but it’s never intentional, I promise. I just say, ‘Last one, best one,’ and if you’re going to win you have to put it all on the line. I took everything I had left in me and just jumped.
“It shows the hard work I put in mentally and physically, because I was on the downside to where I was thinking I should retire. A lot of people told me that’s not the way to go, so I talked to people and worked real hard mentally to get back to where I am. It just shows the hard work that I put in.”
Kevin Sully for the IAAF