Brittney Reese is a four-time world champion long jumper, making her the favorite to win gold in Wednesday's final in the Olympic women's long jump. But while Reese is one of the biggest stars on the United States track and field team, she envisioned herself starring in a different sport as a high school athlete.
“Being able to play basketball professionally was a dream of mine,” Reese said.
Her athletic career began taking a new path, however, during her junior year of high school, when she tried long jump for the first time and jumped 18 feet (via the Los Angeles Times). Since then, Reese’s list of accomplishments as a long jumper has grown very long, including a high school state championship, two NCAA championships and four world championships.
Reese is well known for her track and field accomplishments, but there is much more to her than athletic ability. Bleacher Report had the chance to speak with Reese and find out more about the 25-year-old athletic standout from Gulfport, Miss.
1. What do you enjoy most about being a professional track athlete and a part of Team USA?
“The traveling,” Reese said. “It’s fun. When you go overseas, there’s tons of fans, they enjoy track and field like Americans would enjoy basketball and football, and it’s great to see some of that crowd.”
Reese added that the 2012 Olympic Games would be her first time traveling to London.
2. At the 2012 World Indoor Championships, Reese broke Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s U.S. indoor long jump record with a jump of 23 feet, 8.25 inches. Joyner-Kersee, who serves as a mentor to Reese, still holds the U.S. outdoor long jump record with a jump of 24 feet, seven inches.
How realistic do you think it would be for you to potentially break Joyner-Kersee’s record this year?
“That mark is pretty far,” Reese said. “It certainly would be a great thing for me to break it. It would mean a lot, but I’m not looking forward to trying to break it this year. It’s pretty far, I have to jump at least 7.40, 7.50 (metric distances). I do want to hopefully one year break that record also. She’s a good mentor for me, and she talks to me all the time. She actually wants me to break it, but I think it would just have to be the perfect day, perfect weather, everything would have to be in order, and I would have to have the best takeoff and landing and everything to achieve that goal.”
What is it like to have Jackie Joyner-Kersee as a role model?
“It’s a real honor for me because I look up to her," she said. "She’s been one of the best long jumpers in United States and the world also. When you have somebody like that on your side, it’s just nothing but a blessing, and I feel like it’s an advantage to me, because I got the best on my side so I just try to use her and pick her brain and try to get all I can from her that can help me succeed in my career.”
3. Reese’s coach, Joe Walker, recently retired after a 30-year career as head coach at the University of Mississippi, Reese’s alma mater. I asked Reese about the impact her coach has had on her.
How important has Joe Walker been to you, both in developing you as an athlete and as a role model in your life?
“He’s a real important figure in my life,” Reese said. “I look up to him a whole lot, not as only a coach but also as a father. He’s a father figure to me. His retirement is something that I think was coming, and I think it’s a great idea for him to retire from Ole Miss, but he’s played a major role in my life, and he’s the main reason why I’m accomplishing the things that I’m accomplishing right now. He’s a wise man and a great father figure.”
4. What does it mean for you to compete while representing the United States on a world stage?
“It means a lot,” Reese said. “Like I said earlier, it’s something that a lot of track athletes try to do because we have the hardest team to make. When you are representing a big country like ours, well actually the No. 1 country, it’s a great honor. I love representing my country, and I try to do the best I can to make sure we come out on top every time we step on the track.”
5. How big of an influence has your family had on your growth as a professional athlete and a person?
“It’s real important to me,” Reese said. “I like to have them in every decision I make, I don’t make any of my decisions on my own. My family’s always been there for me, and I’ve always been there for them. When I have things going on, I make sure I mention them.
“Also, I’m a big family person so I like to keep them involved in stuff. So whenever I have a meet or anything, like right now they’re going to be at trials, and that’s just something that I want them to do because I want them to be there and support me because they’re my biggest fans and I always want to be looking up in the stands and be able to see them. Family’s a big part of me, and I love having them wherever I’m at.”
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Dan Hope is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist covering the 2012 Olympic Games. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.