US Olympic Track Team 2012: 10 Things You Should Know About Brittney Reese
Over the past five years, Brittney Reese has emerged as one of the United States’ top track and field stars. She is a four-time defending world champion in long jump, with back-to-back titles both indoors (2010, 2012) and outdoors (2009, 2011).
Reese’s championship success speaks for itself, but what else should you know about one of the nation’s elite track and field athletes? Read through the following slides to find out 10 more interesting facts about her.
She Holds the US Indoor Long Jump Record
Ian Walton/Getty Images
Finishing first at the World Indoor Championships in 2012 was not a new accomplishment for Reese, but she did have a new achievement at the meet. With her jump of 23 feet, 8 3/4 inches, Reese set a new U.S. record.
Reese broke a record previously held by Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a three-time Olympic gold medalist. Reese, whose best outdoor jump is 23’ 7 1/4’’, told Bleacher Report that she hopes to eventually break Joyner-Kersee’s U.S. outdoor record of 24’7’’, but that she does not expect to do so 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.”
Reese added that she has received encouragement from Joyner-Kersee toward breaking the record.
“She’s a good mentor for me and she talks to me all the time, and she actually wants me to break it,” Reese said. “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.”
Her Track Stardom Began in High School
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Brittney Reese did not begin long jumping until her junior year of high school, but she quickly became a scholastic track and field star.
Reese, who attended Gulfport High School in Gulfport, Miss., was Mississippi’s 2004 Gatorade Player of the Year after sweeping the long jump, triple jump and high jump at the Mississippi high school state meet. According to Sports Illustrated, she also anchored Gulfport’s 400-, 800- and 1,600-meter relay teams in that meet.
In her senior year, Reese truly made a statement that she was the best high-school track and field athlete in Mississippi, and one of the best nationwide. According to DyeStat’s high school track and field database, her top marks in long jump, triple jump and high jump all ranked within the top 15 overall performances (including wind-aided distances) nationwide.
Reese, however, did not necessarily see herself as a track and field star in high school.
“When I was in high school, my main focus was basketball and track was just to stay in shape,” Reese told Bleacher Report. “When I jumped, I didn’t know anything about track and field. I didn’t even know I had the top mark in Mississippi until after I graduated, but I wasn’t worried about track and field like that... My mom is the one who was more concerned about long jumping than I was.”
She Also Starred in Basketball in College
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
According to Baxter Holmes of the Los Angeles Times, “basketball was (Reese’s) first love.”
“Being able to play basketball professionally was a dream of mine,” Reese told Bleacher Report.
Reese’s rise to high-school track stardom earned her a track scholarship to the University of Mississippi. However, she failed to meet NCAA academic requirements and spent two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Because MGCCC did not have a track and field program, Reese played basketball for her two years at the junior college level. Her coach, Melanie Stone, told Sports Illustrated that she was the “best player on the team.” Reese had offers to continue playing basketball at four-year universities, but she decided to return to track at Ole Miss.
Reese told Bleacher Report that she did not make the decision to eventually focus on track until her freshman year at MGCCC.
“Me and my mom sat down and we just decided that I was going to take a track scholarship,” Reese said. “I had already committed to go play basketball at community college, and after my first year I was going to transfer to Ole Miss, but we had a great year so I wanted to stick out with the team and finish out my sophomore year there.”
Reese added that she had multiple Division I scholarship offers to play basketball from schools including Clemson and Southeast Missouri State.
Returning to track turned out to be the right decision. Reese won the NCAA indoor and outdoor championships in long jump in 2008.
She Is a Tattoo Enthusiast
Nick Laham/Getty Images
One aspect of Reese’s appearance that stands out to observers is her numerous tattoos.
Reese told Sports Illustrated’s Nick Zaccardi that she has “tons of tattoos,” and she described many of them. She explained that her favorite tattoo is the Biblical phrase “Philippians 4:13” on her right wrist.
Reese’s other tattoos include the word “Believe” with a moon and star on her left wrist, Olympic rings with the word “Beast” on her chest, a cross with a dove on her right arm, the phrase “Born a Champion” on the inside of her arm and the phrase “Live Life Love Family” on her stomach.
Reese explained to Bleacher Report that because she is quiet, tattoos are another way she expresses herself.
“I’m not a big talker or anything, so when I express myself, I try to express myself sometimes through tattoos,” Reese said. “As everybody knows, I have a ton of tattoos, but that’s just something that I picked up a habit of doing is getting tattoos. All of them have meaning, none of them are just regular tattoos, they all have meaning and they all mean something to me.”
Her First Olympic Performance Was Disappointing
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Reese was victorious in long jump at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, and she
was the top qualifier going into the long jump finals at the 2008 Games in Beijing. However, Reese failed to medal, finishing only in fifth place.
Reese’s best jump in those finals was only 22 feet, 2 1/4 inches, which was shorter than the jumps she achieved at the trials and in the qualification round.
Reese told Sports Illustrated that finishing fifth in Beijing left her “devastated and heartbroken” because she expected to win an Olympic medal.
She Survived Hurricane Katrina
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
In the words of NBC News correspondent Janet Shamlian, Reese’s hometown of Gulfport, Miss. was “devastated emotionally and physically” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Reese told the Los Angeles Times that her family was “lucky.” Although their home suffered major damage that caused them to be displaced for weeks (according to The New York Times), the house survived.
Reese told Bleacher Report that the experience of going through Hurricane Katrina was “a real eye-opener.”
“A lot of people lost their homes, and we were fortunate not to lose as much as others had lost. It really opened your eyes and let you see how blessed you are to have the things that you have, and when it’s taken away from you, it’s crazy. It played a major part in me just wanting to do all I can for my city and help others who lost their families and lost homes.”
Her Coach Is a Legend
Joey Brent / OleMissSports.com
Joe Walker recently retired following a 30-year career as the head coach of the Ole Miss track program, but he continues to serve as the personal coach of Reese, one of the many athletes he coached in his many years with the Rebels.
The longevity of Walker’s career at Mississippi speaks to his success, as do his results. Walker has coached more than 100 All-Americans and more than a dozen NCAA individual champions, and also had at least one athlete that he had coached participating in every Summer Olympics from 1976-2000.
After having no Olympian in the 2004 Games, Reese became Walker’s newest pupil to become an Olympian by qualifying for the 2008 Games.
She Returned to School to Earn Her Bachelor’s Degree
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Academic troubles delayed Reese’s enrollment at the University of Mississippi, and as a result, she had not earned her bachelor’s degree when she left school to become a professional athlete in 2008. However, Reese did not give up on her academics.
She became a graduate of the university in May 2011, earning her bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in psychology.
Reese realized the importance of education, and did not allow her professional athletic career to prevent her from finishing what she started academically.
She Is “Da Beast”
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
In recognition of Reese’s tremendous track talent, her collegiate teammates at Ole Miss adorned her with the nickname “Da Beast.”
“I can’t complain about that nickname,” Reese told USA Today.
Reese’s Twitter handle, @DaLJBeast, incorporates her nickname. Reese is an avid tweeter with more than 19,000 tweets and 2,400 followers.
She Gives Back
Harry How/Getty Images
The Daily Mississippian, the University of Mississippi’s student newspaper, described some of the ways that former Rebel athlete Reese has used her fame and fortune to give back to the communities around her.
“Last November, Reese returned to her hometown on the Gulf Coast and bought 100 turkeys to hand out to families in need. On a trip to Canada last month, she met with elementary school children and talked about the importance of obtaining an education. Reese has also set up a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Oxford to get involved as a mentor to the children.
Never one to keep her winnings to herself, she recently asked her agent to use a portion of her prize money to set up a college fund for her nieces.”
Reese told Bleacher Report that her family instilled the importance of community service while raising her.
“My grandmother always told me when you have money and others don’t, you got to know how to give. I was raised that way, and I know if my grandmother was still here, she would be doing the same thing.”
Thanks for reading!
Follow me on Twitter @Dan_Hope.