Brittney Reese competes in the women's long jump final at Olympic Stadium on Aug. 8, 2012, at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
NEW YORK – While skiers, skaters, sliders, and curlers intensify their preparation for the 2014 Sochi Games, the stars of London are slowly ramping up for Rio 2016. Saturday night in New York City, more than a dozen Olympic medalists in track and field will headline the 106th Millrose Games, the nation’s most prestigious indoor track meet.
Some, like medalists Jason Richardson and Bernard Lagat will run non-Olympic distances (60-meter hurdles and two miles, respectively) but Olympic champions in the field events like pole vaulter Jenn Suhr and long jumper Brittney Reese will be in their element.
Despite Reese’s impressive resume – one Olympic gold medal, two indoor world titles, two outdoor world titles – the Gulfport, Mississippi, native may be the least publicized of them all. Before the meet, TeamUSA.org caught up with the Ole Miss alumna whose indoor American record of 23 feet, 8.75 inches is roughly the equivalent of jumping over three-and-a-half LeBron Jameses lying head to toe in the sand pit.
The mile is traditionally the marquee event at Millrose but there are no Olympic champions in this year’s race. Yet here you are with four world titles and Olympic gold and you’re so low key.
I don’t look for fame. I just try to get the crowd going. [The music I requested tonight for Millrose] is “All Gold Everything” by rapper Trinidad James. I was at the Super Bowl and the 49ers used it to get the crowd pumped. I’ve been working extra hard to be an attention drawer. I feel like we work just as hard as sprinters and don’t get the same accolades.
What are the differences between jumping indoors and outdoors? Do you have a preference?
I definitely have a preference. I love outdoor jumping because of the elements. This year I’m trying to focus on my landing and making sure my last two steps are fast. Last year, I finally got it right.
Are the runway and the pit dimensions the same indoors and outdoors?
They’re all different. This meet is on an elevated track. On elevated tracks you can get more bounce – which is a good thing if you know how to control it. On outdoor, it’s a flat track. It’s a huge difference.
Any other technical differences?
Now, since it’s the start of the season, I’m taking 10 steps [in my run-up]. By outdoor season, I’ll go 12. Twelve steps helps you get more speed in order to jump further. Ten steps makes you work on other things. At Washington state last week, I went eight steps and I jumped 6.55 [meters]. [Reese’s indoor PR is 7.23 meters.]
Is 12 steps the standard run-up in the women’s long jump?
It’s always changing. I tend to go back further and further as the season draws out because I get faster. By the end of the season I’ll be fast. Right now I’m [starting] 100 feet [back]. By the end of the season, I’ll go at around 136.
You mentioned you’re working on your landing. What aspect of it?
I’ve always been doing the hang. It’s when you just curl your legs up [in the air]. But now when I do the hang, I try to make sure I bring my legs through, like a sweeping motion. When I first started long jump, I landed basically standing up. Now I’m actually swinging my hands past my body to help me gain those extra inches.
Do you use any devices at the gym to practice your technique in the air?
I practice on a high jump mat. We have a little box and I just run up on the box, hang, and do my landing onto the high jump mat. That’s how I practice it.
Have you made any other changes since the London Olympic Games?
I moved to California in October. I was training in Mississippi, at Ole Miss, and now I’m in San Diego at the Olympic Training Center. I have a group now – mainly men – so I have to push myself in order to beat them. And they don’t want me to beat them so we’re just going head-to-head every time we practice.
Any big names in your training group at the OTC?
They’re more low key but Will Claye is supposed to come. [Claye won two medals at the London Games: silver in triple jump, and bronze in long jump.]
As a native of Gulfport, Mississippi, were you hit hard by Hurricane Katrina?
Yes, I was in Katrina. My family didn’t get affected as bad as others. Our ceiling came down and we had tons of mold. We were in and out of trailers and RVs for about four months. My mom worked for FedEx, so they provided RVs in Gulfport. Last August, another hurricane [Isaac] came and flooded my mom’s house and my car. My mom just got back in her house last month. They had to get a whole new house.
Do you come from a big family?
I have an older sister and a younger sister. I’m the only athlete. My mom, Carla Young, is the one who helped me get to where I am today. She’s a single mom. She worked long hours and always made time to come to my basketball games, my track meets. She’s been at my [two] Olympic meets and one world championships. She’ll be here, too.
Were you always a jumper?
I did long jump, high jump, triple jump, the 100, the 60, and the relays. But long jump was my strongest event.
At 21, you made your Olympic debut in Beijing, in 2008. How did it go?
Devastating. I got fifth. I was inexperienced. I had just come out of my college career. I had so much pressure on me in college: I was doing [at least four events] to make sure my team got the points. By the time I got to the Olympics, I was burned out. After I turned pro and set my own schedule, it’s been going good so far.
You went on to win five consecutive major international titles. Does winning start to become the same, or was each one a totally different experience?
In 2012, it was like I had to win. I was supposed to win. Everybody was expecting me to win. My stress level was high because I didn’t want to let people down. My other medals came by surprise. The worst one – or the biggest surprise – was when I won my second outdoor world title in Daegu [South Korea, in 2011] with the lowest-ever world championship jump, 6.82 [meters]. I wasn’t expecting that mark to hold up and it did. I was so surprised and excited at the same time. But yeah, you don’t talk about it that much because you didn’t do as much as you thought you could do.
By the London Olympics, there was only one way for you to go: down. How did you cope with that realization?
I’m tough. I’m a true competitor and I like to win. My coach [Joe Walker, Jr.] asked me plenty of times: are you nervous, are you scared, what are your thoughts, is it too much pressure? I told him it’s not that much pressure, but I feel it and I know I can handle it. So I played Sudoku in bed, I listened to music, I did everything I could not to think about the competition until the day of the competition. That’s how I handled it.
What’s the coolest thing about long jump?
I love to see how quick I can get off the board and drive my knees. It reflects off of basketball. I was a shooting guard in high school and in junior college at Gulf Coast Community College. When you drive your knee forward for a layup, it’s the same on take off.
I just love to jump. I was a real active kid. I used to jump off of trees, balconies. I used to jump and touch the rim in basketball. Randomly, I’d just run and jump to touch the ceiling.
Aimee Berg 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.