As Brittney Reese’s plane touched down in Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics, one thing quickly snapped into focus for the UM track-and-field star: She wasn’t in her hometown of Gulfport anymore.
”Beijing was totally different,” said Reese, a psychology major at UM. “There were thousands and thousands of people walking around everywhere. It was like nothing I was used to because I have never really been to any big cities.”
After a 2008 season that saw Reese capture 13 straight individual titles in the long jump, she qualified for the Olympics in July, becoming the first female track-and-field athlete in school history to compete in the Olympics.
“Brittney showed exactly what type of competitor she is with her performance at the trials,” said Joe Walker, head coach of the UM track-and-field team. “It really just shows how much talent and determination she has along with the type of character she has.”
In the finals, Reese jumped 6.76 meters (22 feet, 2.25 inches)—good enough for a fifth-place finish and bragging rights as the top American finisher in the long jump.
“I was disappointed at first, but I feel really good about it now,” Reese said about her performance, which fell just over 11 inches short of the gold medal. “As I got to thinking about it more, it made me feel even better to know that I am the top American long jumper in the world.”
Not bad for an athlete who couldn’t decide between basketball and track after earning an associate’s degree from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Her mother persuaded her to take the track scholarship to UM, which paid off with the once-in-a-lifetime experience of the Olympics.
“The opening ceremonies are probably what I will remember most about being in the Olympics,” Reese said. “I also got to meet and take pictures with presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush. It was a lot of fun.”
“I was extremely proud of the season Brittney had,” Walker said. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with finishing fifth in the world. This was an experience of a lifetime for most people, but for Brittney it is just the beginning.”
Reese is already training for the 2012 Olympics in London.