The first in a series of articles originally intended as part of our Olympic Trials Women’s Long Jump Preview. With the Trials and Olympics now postponed to 2021 by the COVID-19 crisis, we present this series as a current look at a U.S. wheelhouse event whenever the Olympics come round, no matter what the year.
ANGERED WITH HER PERFORMANCE at last fall’s World Championships, where she failed to make the long jump final, Brittney Reese came into 2020 on fire. “I’ve been feeling the best that I’ve been since ’16 when I was in great shape and was aiming to have a personal best,” she says. “I was doing all the small things and I was mentally, physically and emotionally prepared to compete this year.”
Reese and longtime coach Jeremy Fischer had decided that a reinfusion of speed would be a key factor in Reese’s 14th season at a world-class level (see sidebar). To wit, she won the 60 in 7.32 at the Texas Tech Invitational on February 1. That’s not far from her ’11 PR of 7.24.
“This year I wanted to not focus mainly on jumping. I wanted to be fast,” she explains. “This last year I felt that I wasn’t as fast as I needed to be because everything was so late last year. We kind of backed off a little bit on the sprinting because we didn’t want to burn me out.”
She clarifies that she wasn’t planning to do a ton of racing: “I probably would want one 100-meter dash just to see where I was at, to see if I could PR in that.” (Her best is 11.40 from ’17.) “But when I did so well in the 60, I knew I was on the right track to where I needed to be.” (Continued below)
The Doha experience still rankles her. Sitting as No. 3 on the yearly world list coming in, Reese managed only a 21-4¾ (6.52) on her third jump in the qualifying round, falling a centimeter shy of making the final. “That wasn’t the athlete that I was training to be,” she says. “Not making the final is something that to me is a big failure. It kind of gave me the drive to see where I’m at now in my training. I know my standards are high and I had to refresh and go back and understand that some of the things that I did not do contributed to that.
“I couldn’t be mad at anybody but myself. It was none of the coaches. It was just simply me not going out and executing and being the Brittney Reese that I know I can be. I was too complacent. I was just too relaxed. When it came time for my last jump—it should never have come down to that—I just didn’t execute the way I knew I could.”
Now 33, she admits, “I feel like I was getting complacent a lot of these years because I’ve won so many and I was just getting comfortable to where I knew that I didn’t have to do too much. Now that I know age plays a factor and I could be more motivated, I have to push myself a little bit more than I have in the past. That definitely drives me to be a better athlete now.”
Reese is trying to sort out her plan for the next few years. The Tokyo postponement, welcomed by nobody, has thrown her for a loop. She trains at the Elite Athlete Training Center in Chula Vista, which has tightened access and closed some of its services in the face of the coronavirus threat. “I stay off-campus, so it’s not that hard for me,” she says, “because once I leave practice, if I’m not at the store, I’m at home the whole time. Everybody is actually taking very good precautions.”
She’s turning her garage into a gym, both for her own use and for her 12-year-old son Alex, who’s already shown some spark in the long jump, winning the San Diego Junior Olympics last summer. Now he’s getting ready for football. “I’m the overprotective mom,”she says, “so I’m not the biggest fan of football for him—I love to watch it though.”
For herself, though, it’s all about staying fit and being patient in a world where no schedules are etched in stone anymore. However, the postponement doesn’t really affect her retirement plans, she says. “My plan was to go through 2021 regardless of the situation. So it isn’t hurting things as far as what I planned on doing. It’s just my mindset has had to shift to hold off getting ready for that.”
Reese makes it clear that even after 7 World Championships golds (4 outdoor, 3 in) and Olympic gold & silver, she is by no means done. “I’ve always wanted to break the World and American Records,” she says. “I felt like my training was going to put me in that position this year.” The postponement, she says, “allows me to work with those things that I still need to work on and gives me a little more when I get to those meets.”
She very much has her mind on her legacy in the sport. When all is said and done, she says, “I want everybody to know that I was a tough competitor, and every time I stepped on the runway, I would give my heart and I was there to win.”