LONDON — Three reigning world champions on Team USA took to the track at Olympic stadium tonight. But only one ran away with an Olympic gold medal. Or rather, jumped.
Brittney Reese, the 2009 and 2011 long jump world champion, leapt to 7.12 meters (23’ 4.3”) on her second try and erased the devastation of the 2008 Olympics where she finished fifth.
“I told myself I wasn’t ever going to be left off the podium again,” she said. “So I trained four years. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for.”
The reigning world champions in the women’s 400m hurdles and men’s 110m hurdles were not as lucky, taking silver instead of gold.
Jason Richardson trailed winner Aries Merritt from the start of the men’s 110m hurdles but held off the rest of the field, including world record holder Dayron Robles from Cuba (who was disqualified). But Richardson was happy with his performance.
“I’m proud to have won two medals,” he said, referring to his world championship gold from last year and the 2012 Olympic silver. “Two for two. That kind of makes me a bad---!”
Lashinda Demus was less than thrilled with her silver in the women’s 400m hurdles. Behind her were Team USA hurdlers Georganne Moline in fifth and T’Erea Brown in sixth.
Demus got off to a fast start. But Natalya Antyukh from Russia chased hard in the middle of the race and came out of the final turn ahead of the American. Coming off the last hurdle, Demus chased her down, but fell just 0.07 short of gold.
“I felt that I had so many people pushing for me and wanting me to get this gold medal,” said Demus. “It was very emotional for me because I didn’t want to let America down. I don’t like letting myself down, my coach, and everyone here supporting me. It was a lot on my shoulders.”
The 31-year-old hurdler was particularly upset because she wanted her five-year-old twins to see their mom on the top step of the podium. It was yet another disappointment on her long, winding Olympic path.
At the 2004 Olympic Games, Demus missed qualifying for the finals. Four years later, she didn’t make the 2008 Olympics, finishing fourth at Trials after leading for most of the race. But it wasn’t unexpected. Duaine and Dohntay were born just over a year earlier on June 5, 2007, and Demus had had a difficult pregnancy.
“I was so disappointed [in 2004] and the only thing that kept me afloat was that I knew that I had time, I was so young,” she said. “But what really brought me down was not making the team in 2008.”
Training hard with her mom Yolanda as coach, Demus finally recovered her form.
Coming to the Olympics as the reigning world champion, Demus said she felt “a tad bit more pressure.”
“Who doesn’t want to live up to their title? I absolutely did,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s more than I could handle.”
What was hard for her to shoulder were the perceived expectations of those around her: her mom, her husband, Jamel Mayrant who serves as her agent, and her two cute little boys cheering along with 80,000+ other people in the Olympic Stadium.
“I felt defeated,” Demus said after the finish, tears welling in her eyes. “I wanted it so bad. You can’t help but get emotional when people want you to do the best.”
“I wanted the gold medal,” she added. “I can’t explain how badly I wanted it. I won’t stop until I get it, so I will run until 2016.”
Reese, 25, also wanted that gold medal and this time, she got it. The former basketball player, who famously jumped for a Coke when the high school track coach was trying to lure talented jumpers onto his team, knows about disappointment. At the 2008 Olympics, she jumped the farthest in qualifying, but then could not leap farther than fifth in the finals.
At the time, she felt like she had let her family down. And her home state of Mississippi.
“We got hit by [Hurricane] Katrina real hard,” she said. “In ‘08 that was my goal and in 2012 that was my goal again, to bring something home for them. It’s not just for me. It’s for the whole Gulf Coast.”
After vowing to never finish off the podium again — and living up to her college nickname The Beast (from “B-Reese”) — she won the 2009 and 2011 world titles. But the pressure of a world crown didn’t weigh on her at this Olympics.
“I don’t get pressured a lot,” she said, and her easy-going, slightly slumped body language illustrates this. “My coach tells me to come out here, have fun, and just be Brittney Reese.”
Reese’s jump of 7.12 (23’4.3”) was a scant two inches ahead of Russia’s Elena Sokolova. But the Beast wasn’t worried about the Russian, whose 7.07 (23’2.3”) was a personal best. Instead, she was worried about teammate Janay DeLoach.
“At any given moment, Janay can jump 7 meters,” said Reese.
The best DeLoach could jump tonight was 6.89, but it was good enough for bronze.
“Brittney is setting the standard every time she jumps, my goal is to just be better than her,” said DeLoach, laughing. “It didn’t happen today but … .”
Asked if she is expecting a text from Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the last American to win a long jump gold medal in 1988, Reese said yes. Last winter, the track & field legend texted Reese after she broke Joyner Kersee’s indoor long jump American record.
“This is the first [long jump] gold medal we’ve had in 24 years,” said Reese. “I’m pretty sure I will hear from her.”Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.