Long jumper Brittney Reese takes flight in pursuit of Olympic medal

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She could have taken “no” for an answer from her well-meaning high school coach, who simply didn’t want her to spread herself too thin. But even at age 15, “no” was a word Brittney Reese didn’t want to hear.

“I had just finished up basketball season and my track coach was trying to find a long jumper,” Reese recalled. “He wouldn’t let me jump at all, because I had to do the 400 meters, and I was already doing the high jump. I kept begging him, asking him could I try, and he kept telling me no. I finally convinced him to let me try, so I went out there and jumped 17 feet my first try. He couldn’t believe it. He said, ‘Do it again.’ “

So she did.

Ten years later, Reese, 25, is training for her second Olympics and is the favorite to win the gold medal in London. Reese easily won the long jump at last month’s Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., with a jump of 23 feet, 5 1/2 inches.

Reese will be joined in London by second-place finisher Chelsea Hayes and third-place finisher Janay DeLoach.

Brittney Reese, shown training at Coppin State in Baltimore, is the favorite to win the gold medal in the long jump at the London Games, which will be her second Olympics. The 25-year-old Reese won the event in the Olympic trials last month in Eugene, Ore., clearing a distance of 23 feet, 5 1/2 inches. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

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Brittney Reese, shown training at Coppin State in Baltimore, is the favorite ... more >

“I can say it feels good, hearing that I’m the favorite, but when I was in college, I was the favorite to win the bronze and I went out there and got fifth,” Reese said, recalling the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the disappointment of not making it onto the medal stand.

“I don’t worry about people saying I’m the favorite. In the long jump, it only takes one jump. It only matters who jumps the farthest that given day. My thing is just to go out there and not worry about it, and just have fun and try to do my best.”

Redefining her Olympic dream

When Reese first began to dream of competing in the Olympics, it was basketball, not track and field, that she saw in her mind’s eye.

“I grew up watching the WNBA and Cynthia Cooper and Cheryl Swoopes, and my dream was to make it to the WNBA and go to the Olympics,” she said. “But now things have changed. But I still succeeded in making it to the Olympics, so I can say that my dream has been fulfilled. I’m just blessed and happy to represent my country.”

A two-sport star in high school and college, Reese won the long jump, high jump and triple jump in the state championship meet while attending Gulfport High School in Gulfport, Miss. After spending two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, she was inducted into the school’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Reese then attended the University of Mississippi, where she shifted her focus from basketball to track and field and began to succeed on a national level. In 2008, she won the long jump at the NCAA Outdoor Championships and was named the SEC Women’s Field Athlete of the Year.

It was the same year she met her role model, track legend and four-time Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

“It started out as one of those ‘I saw Jackie Joyner-Kersee‘ moments,” Reese said. “She’s been my idol for the longest. I wrote that I wanted to meet her, and it got back to one of her friends, and now she calls me and texts me all the time. She’s a real great person, and I’m glad that she’s on my side.”

As it turned out, Joyner-Kersee didn’t need much prompting to make contact with Reese. She knew exactly who Reese was.

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