Reese, 25, could change that this summer.
“She’s something we haven’t seen in the States in many, many years,” said Joyner-Kersee, a six-time Olympic medalist, three of which came in the long jump.
Joyner-Kersee has kept a close eye on Reese’s development. She’s really had no choice. Reese has been more dominant than any other American track and field athlete since the last Summer Games. She’s won four world championships — two outdoor and two indoor — and is a four-time national champion. Reese broke Joyner-Kersee’s indoor American record this year, jumping 23 feet 8¾ inches.
Reese’s resume since 2008 looks like that of an international assassin: First-place hits in Berlin; Thessaloniki, Greece; Doha, Qatar; Brasschaat, Belgium; Zurich; Paris; Rome; Monaco; Istanbul; Lausanne, Switzerland; Daegu, South Korea.
The Mississippi long jumper picks up frequent-flier miles without the aid of any airline. She’s posted the best distances in the world each of the past two years and will likely enter London as the favorite. First, she’ll have to top the field at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials. Reese competed in the qualifying round Thursday, and the long jump finals are scheduled for Sunday.
She calls the last four years a journey, physically and mentally. At the Beijing Olympics, Reese posted the best jump in the qualifying rounds but then settled for fifth place. She remembers sitting on the bus as it left the Bird’s Nest stadium and returned to the Olympic Village. Reese stared out the window and cried.
“I was just devastated,” she said.
A phone call from her mom and encouraging e-mail from her coach that night helped Reese refocus her efforts on London four years down the road. And since then she’s been nearly unbeatable. Joyner-Kersee and Marion Jones are the only American women to ever jump farther. (Jones was temporarily an Olympic medalist, but her long-jumping bronze from the 2000 Summer Games was one of five medals she returned after admitting she had used performance-enhancing drugs.)
Today, Reese is capable of jumping more than a foot farther than her Beijing marks and has a different approach to the sport, too.
“It taught me when I go out to compete to have fun, not focus solely on winning,” she said. “Everything about Beijing helped me get my mind set for London.”
Reese is still a relatively young competitor in the sport. Though she jumped in high school, she played basketball at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and didn’t really focus on the long jump until transferring to the University of Mississippi before her junior year.
“I think she realized she could be good in basketball or great in track,” Ole Miss Coach Joe Walker said. “She wanted to be great.”