Reese preparing to fulfill her dream

Joe Walker always knew Brittney Reese was special. He learned along the way just how special.

Reese, who completed her track and field eligibility at Ole Miss by turning pro last month, is headed to Beijing next month to represent the United States, Ole Miss, and Mississippi in the Olympic Games. The low-key, consistent Reese appears to be taking it all in stride, hard as that may be to actually do.

"Being in the Olympics was always one of my dreams," said the Gulfport High School product Thursday at what appeared to be the largest media gathering in Ole Miss track and field history as newspaper, TV, radio, and internet reporters gathered or asked questions via conference call at the UM track complex.

Once upon a time, however, making the Olympics in another sport was her goal.

"I always wanted to do it in basketball, but coming to Ole Miss and making it is still a dream come true," said the 21-year-old, who played basketball at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College for two years prior to arriving at Ole Miss. "I'm really grateful being in the Olympics and happy I get to go and have Coach Walker go along with me."

And she's going there to win it all. Or at the very least win a medal. Walker, the veteran head coach at Ole Miss, said there are six or seven, maybe eight, long jumpers around the world who he feels can win one.

"She's certainly got a good shot," he said.

Reese, who has the third longest jump in the world this year, leaves this weekend for two preparatory meets. On July 22 she will compete in a meet in Stockholm, Sweden, and on July 29 in Monaco on the French Riviera. After that, it's on to Beijing. She will jump there on August 19 and again on August 22. Her mother and one of her aunts will join her and Walker there.

Reese finished first at the recent U.S. Olympic trials with a long jump of 22 feet, 9.75 inches. She says being first at that event in Eugene, Ore., has helped her, knowing she can compete and win against the best.

"It's given me a lot of confidence," said Reese, who won the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Long Jump titles this past school year. "By winning first place on my last jump (at the Olympic trials), I'm motivated to go and win."

As for basketball, she says she knows her dream of making it in that sport are over. But that's fine with her.

"I've set basketball aside," she said. "I just do it now for fun. Now I'm just a long jumper."

Walker has known Reese since recruiting her out of high school. He said he knew she was special, but it would have been hard for anyone to have made the call on her path to this point.

"Anybody who saw Brittney knew she had a lot of talent," he said. "Anybody who says they could have predicted this for her future would just be lying. And she's got a lot more to give. If she can stay injury-free and that sort of thing, you'll see a lot more great performances out of her for years. She's still young and she's handled everything well."

Reese already has some experience with Far East culture. She was on the U.S. national team last year that competed in Japan at the World Championships, which is the off-year equivalent of the Olympic Games. She finished eighth and jumped for the first time in her career more than 22 feet.

Reese says the realization that she will be representing the U.S. on the biggest stage of them all has indeed hit home with her.

"It's sunk in by now," she said. "I'm preparing now to go there and compete to the best of my abilities. I want to win a medal, any medal. Just knowing I've made it there is special. But I'm going to try to win a medal, and hopefully it will be the gold."

*** Brittany Reese career highlights:

Sixth track and field Olympian in school history.

Fourth Ole Miss track and field athlete to compete in the Olympics for the United States.

Competed in a total of 28 meets in her two years at Ole Miss.

Won long jump individual titles in 24 of the 28 meets in which she competed.

Jumped at least 20 feet in the long jump in 26 of the 28 meets in which she competed.

Five-time SEC Champion (4 Long Jump, 1 High Jump)

Two-time NCAA Champion in the long jump.

Four-time NCAA All-American.

Only female in school history to win an NCAA individual championship.

Made the USA World Championship Team in 2007. (equivalent of making the Olympic Team.)

Won the Commissioner's Trophy at the SEC Championships twice.

Scored 31 total points at the SEC Indoor Championships to set a new school record for most individual points accumulated.

Ranked as the No. 1 American long jumper all season in 2008.

Named the 2008 National Women's Field Athlete of the Year.

Two-time winner of the SEC Female Field Athlete of the Year.

Four-time All SEC performer

Named the 2008 South Region Female Field Athlete of the Year.

Named to the All-MidEast Regional Team in 2007 & 2008.

Set four meet records and four facility records in 2008.

Set the indoor school record in the high jump (6-02.00), long jump (22-06.50) and triple jump (42-08.75) in 2008.

Set the outdoor school record in the high jump (6-06.00), long jump (22-09.75) and triple jump (43-02.25) in 2008.

Her long jump of 22-09.75 at the U.S. Olympic Trials stands as the third longest jump in the world at this point. It is the best jump by an American this year.

Signed a professional contract with Nike.

Scored 10 points at the 2008 NCAA Outdoor Championships to help the Lady Rebels to a school record 15th place finish at the meet.

Helped the Lady Rebels to a third place finish at the 2008 outdoor MidEast Regional.

Thanks to Jay D'Abramo of UM athletics media relations for his assistance with this story.

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