lunes, 30 de abril de 2012

Brittney Reese, when it Matters most

Brittney Reese, the current dominator of the female long jump event
            She does not get as many highlights in the specialized press as her compatriots Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross, maybe because she belongs to a field event. However she is like Felix and Richards a highly successful athlete targeting an elusive first Olympic gold medal. She lacks the sex appeal of her competitor Darya Klishina and does not have either the knack of the Russian to exploit her nice looks; yet her performances on the athletic track are for the moment far more consistent. She became only the second long jumper in defending her summer world title, after her idol and friend Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and for instance the first one to achieve it indoors. Nevertheless her sensational accomplishment in Daegu was eventually overshadowed by Nastassia Mironchyk’s ponytail, which prevented the young Belarusian from getting a medal in the final. She obtained with 7.23m the longest jump indoors in 23 years, breaking Joyner’s long standing national record, but Brittney Reese still keeps a low-profile as athlete.

Reese was born in Inglewood, California, the 9th September 1986. The place they were living was a rough neighbourhood so mum, great-grandma and two-year-old daughter moved south to Gulfport, Mississippi, looking for a better environment for Brittney to grow up. (1)  Reese was gifted for sports but her first love was not long jumping but basketball, maybe from watching her amazing uncles. Leaping was anyway almost an instinct for her: as easy was climbing an oak tree as dunking with a ball. However, one day, when Brittney was in her high school junior year in 2003, she was discovered as an amazing long jumper, winning a coke in the process. Track and field coach Chris Jones came upon the Gulfport female basket ball team looking for a new member in the long jump event, offering a drink to the one able to leap the furthest. Every girl gave it a go with modest results, with the exception of Brittney, who was not considered because, besides practising basket ball, she was already enrolled in athletics, in the 400m distance. Reese insisted in trying too and, when she was eventually allowed, she surprised everybody producing without any previous knowledge of the discipline a bound of 18 feet (5 metres and a half). In disbelief the coach told her to do it again and she did, winning the coke and the offered spot.
Jones did a nice job showing the basics of long jumping to the rookie, who would progress with him to 6.31. Brittney also contributed in triple jump, high jump and the relays for her school during the year. The upcoming athlete was in the radar of Ole Miss University but she lost her chance for a scholarship, because she had goofed-off and obtained low grades in English. Therefore, she had to attend Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College for two years. That establishment did not have a track and field program and instead Brittney embraced basket ball again. Then she led the Lady Bulldogs with an average 18 points and 9 rebounds per game. She made the all-star team and later on was inducted into the school’s hall of fame. (2)  Brittney received several basket ball offers to transfer to small four-year schools, but Ole Miss wanted her for track and field. At this point, her mother was decisive in the eventual decision. Brittney could be a good basket ball player but her talent for long jump was superior. Besides for the latter option she relied exclusively on her own individual talent instead of depending on team issues. In her teen years, Reese had started many things, as piano lessons and swimming, which she had given up later half-way. Carla Young was a healthy influence for her daughter in order to bring her track and field vocation to the end. (3) And if it illustrates something, Brittney Reese eventually achieved also a degree in her formerly weakest subject, English.      

Once in College Brittney Reese focused in track and field and gave up basketball, which she recognises to miss a lot. However, the practise of her former sport was ideal for her long jump development. “In the long jump, you want to lift one knee upward, toward your chest, to help drive your body upward during a jump. I have always done this quite well, and it is probably because basketball players make the same move — lifting one knee upward — when driving for a layup.” (3) Since her days in Mississippi College, Brittney had the chance of being guided by one of the most respected long jump coaches in the country, Joe Walker, who has had an athlete in every US Olympic team since Montreal 1976, with the only exception of the 2004 edition. Yet, as Walker remembers, his best option, the then World indoor champion Savanté Stringfellow was injured for the Games. For Reese, Joe Walker is someone really special, more a paternal figure than a coach. She has grown as an elite athlete with him and it is remarkable how close they are: they have been through a lot together. As a coach, Brittney points out Joe’s ability to automatically detect what is wrong in the execution of her jumps and find the means to correct it. (4) On the other hand, Walker states how amazing to work with her most talented athlete is for him. He says Brittney Reese has rejuvenated him: he feels now the same as when he was in his twenties, the same excitement he had when he produced his first world class jumper Larry Myricks back in the 1970s. Brittney is a humble, fun, nice, easy to talk person, but yet a very fierce competitor, who was fittingly nicknamed “the Beast.” (5)   
                It was quite impressive the quick rise to the world elite of Brittney Reese in her freshman and sophomore years with the Rebels, in an event she had scarcely practised previously. During that period she proved to be an especially solid competitor, winning 23 out of 31 finals, including Collegian victories at SEC, Drake Relays and two NCAA titles. In 2008 she got to perform consistently in the 6.75-6.80 range throughout the year. (6) With those credentials she went beyond NCAA level to climb to national and international stardom. She qualified for the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, where she achieved a good 8th place in her major debut. Then won the national Olympic trials, confronting successfully a tricky wind and the pressure of the outing. In Beijing the new US number one in the discipline led the qualifiers with a jump of 6.87m. However in the final she could only accomplish a 5th place, with a 6.76m best. As Brittney pointed out she paid the toll of a long NCAA campaign, competing in uncountable outings in long jump, high jump, 4x100m relays and also sporadically in the triple jump and speed events to score maximum points for the Mississippi Rebels. In the most important moment of her track and field career she was just tired. (4) Reese was devastated because of her failure to clinch a medal in Beijing and burst in tears, alone in the back of the bus which brought the athletes to the Olympic village.        

Janay Deloach, the darkhorse for London Olympic Games final

After the Olympic year, Joe Walker advised Reese to become professional in order to avoid the strenuous NCAA calendar and also to meet contenders all over the year according with her level. (7) The athlete found quickly a sponsorship through Nike. The decision proved right and the 24th May in Belem, Brazil, she overcame for the first time the 7m barrier. Coming into her second World Championships as the favourite, she delivered to the expectations, winning the most important title of her young career. After Heike Drechsler, who won at the inaugural edition of the contest with her maiden name Daute still being a junior and shooting star Tianna Madison who clinched gold aged 20, Brittney was the youngest winner of the Championship with 22 years. (8) And it was only the beginning… In Berlin, the US long jumper showed again to the world her competitiveness when put under pressure by a stunning performance of one of her rivals: Multi-champion Tatyana Lebedeva had leaped to 6.97m to overcome the 6.93m Reese’s initial effort. Then the American immediately responded with an excellent 7.10m, only one centimetre short of the championship record which set Drechsler when she won her second title in Stuttgart 1993. In the same fashion, Reese would produce her massive leap of 7.23m in this year’s world indoors in Istanbul, in answer to Janay Deloach’s 6.98m. Also had not her inopportune ponytail ruined the 6.90m+ jump of Mironchyk-Ivanova, Brittney would have arguably risen to the challenge with another 7.00m effort. Not feeling the danger, the current number one had enough with her first attempt of 6.82m and fouled each one of her other five jumps for an unbelievable victory just like Dwight Phillips in Helsinki 2005. (9)   
There was plenty of talk about Brittney Reese’s victory in Berlin Worlds with her far from perfect technique, widening her stride instead of shortening it in the last two steps of her running approach and making a standing landing in her winning jump. If she got to jump 7.10m this way, what could had she done with a fine technique? (10) Reese seems another athlete basing her triumphs in her awesome speed and power: she has run the 100m in a valid 11.66 and an 11.2 windy and has a high jump PB of 1.88 from her school years. However the athlete herself is conscious of her weakness in the last stages of her approach and landing and has been working hard in the last couple of seasons with visible improvement and it is also worth to say in 2009 she was still very new in the event. Besides she acknowledged precisely lack of speed, an excessive deceleration, in the last two strides of her approach. Today Brittney’s technique looks much better, simple but rather effective, especially her great take-off and fly, which starts with a powerful right knee drive, and follows with both her arms going symmetrically backwards then forwards, while the bent-legs get stretched simultaneously to the action of the arms.         

 Since her victory at the 2009 Berlin World Championships, Brittney Reese has been the overwhelming dominator of the long jump event, grabbing every major title at stake. She has also achieved seven of the twelve jumps beyond the 7m barrier in this four-year Olympic cycle, coming the other five from Russians Klishina (two), Kolchanova, Zaytseva and Kucherenko (one a piece). The American is amazingly consistent and has been rarely beaten in the circuit. For the Olympic Games in London she is clearly the favourite to grab the only title she has not got yet. Her rivals will be as always the members of the Russian school, especially Olga Kucherenko, medallist at both last European and World Championships and Darya Klishina if she gets stability in big challenges. Not to be forgotten are veteran Latvian Ineta Radevica, in her best moment ever, upcoming Brit Shara Proctor, and ponytail-girl Mironchyk-Ivanova, while reigning champion Higa-Maggi will get ready to defend her title. However, if we look to head to head matches, the most fearsome rival for Reese can be her compatriot Janay Deloach. This one is another intriguing jumper who grew up in far away Alaska. In her high school years she only had the opportunity of 2-6 meetings a year and her lack of competition brought to a shock when she moved to Colorado State University. Janay used to jump just for the scholarship money but a competition in Berkeley, in which she almost beat the then American number one Grace Upshaw, awoke her passion for the sport and she has quickly risen since. (11) Her upset victory over Reese at the national indoor championship last year in Albuquerque, where she delivered a huge 6.99 PB, meant her breakthrough into the elite when she was already 25. Then she finished 6th in Daegu and, after repeating victory over the world number one at the US indoor champs, she pushed the pressure on her to eventually end runner-up in Istanbul. Since her triumph in Berlin Worlds, Brittney Reese rarely loses a long jump competition. Some athletes has got to beat her once but Janay Deloach has done it no less than five times in the last two seasons for a narrow head-to-head lose 5-6 against the four times world champion since they clash last year in Albuquerque. (12) If someone is to produce a huge surprise at the Olympics it might be the girl from Ben Eielson, Alaska        

Out of the track, Brittney Reese is a girl who likes a quiet life at home surrounded by her close family. She is also known by her philanthropic activities. Last Thanks Giving Day she donated 100 turkeys to various homeless and religious organizations in her community of Gulfport, Mississippi as her way of "giving back" to the community that has supported her throughout her athletic career. Brittney is also really fond of tattoos. “I have tons of tattoos. I have on my right wrist, 'Philippians 4:13,' basically that says I can do all things through Christ. That is my favourite tattoo. On my other wrist, I have the word, 'Believe' with a moon and a star on it. The reason I have that tattoo is my mom gave me a necklace, and it had the word 'Believe' on it, and it had the moon and star, but the necklace I had broke. I just never got it fixed. I like the necklace, so I just got it tattooed. I have the Olympic rings on my chest with the word 'Beast.' My nickname for track and field, I got it in college, is B-Reese the Beast. I have track shoes and some footprints on my back left shoulder from when my great grandma died. She is the reason why we moved to Gulfport (Miss.). She passed away a few years ago, and I got that because her favourite song was 'Order My Steps.' Now I have a cross with a dove under it, and that symbolizes everyone that I have known that has passed away, on my right arm. On the inside of my arm, I have 'Born a Champion.' I got that because I feel that I have been successful all my life. I just got that because I like those words. On my stomach, I have 'Live Life Love Family.' That is just mainly because I am a family person. I base my life around my family. (4) 

Brittney Reese achieved in Istanbul the best long jump indoors in 23 years

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