LONDON -- Brittney Reese's first long jump registered an "x," a foul, in the Olympic final Wednesday night. Officials raked the sand pit, but Reese had left her mark. This would play out like every other major meet the last three years. Gold for Reese. Everybody else fights for silver and bronze.
"After I fouled the first one," barely, she said, "All I had to do was take it back, and it was going to be a big jump."
Reese capped a dominance unmatched in track and field in this Olympic cycle, jumping 23 feet, 4½ inches (7.12 meters) to become the second U.S. woman to win the Olympic long jump. Russia's Elena Sokolova (7.07 meters) took silver and American Janay DeLoach (6.89) the bronze. The previous American winner was Reese's idol, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, in 1988. Reese has won the last four world championships (counting indoor and outdoor) and owns four of the five best jumps since the Beijing Olympics. In Beijing, Reese was the top qualifier, but left the Bird's Nest on a bus in tears after getting fifth in the final.
In London, Reese thought about what went wrong in Tuesday's qualifying, when she fouled on her first two jumps then posted what was, for her, a safety mark of 21-6 on the third and last attempt to make the 12-woman final. Reese's personal best is 23-7. Her venerable coach, Mississippi man Joe Walker, said Reese's last two steps and her takeoff from the board were off in qualifying. Out of character for Reese, the woman they call the long-jump beast who can run 100 meters in 11.2 seconds, high jump 6-2 and dunk a basketball.
"Some are better sprinters, some are better jumpers, but she's a combination," said Walker, 65, as he waited for a London train so he could get to bed late Wednesday night. "What she does better than anyone I've ever seen -- man or woman -- is those last three steps and her takeoff. When I watch her jump, the way she attacks the board, her transition from the sprinting to jumping, it's as good as anybody."
Attack, Walker told her over email and telephone during the day Wednesday. Reese got the message at the athletes' village where she sat on a stoop with Wallace Spearmon, Jason Richardson, Doc Patton and other teammates. She played Sudoku, the hard level, and listened to her go-to iPod playlist labeled "ishy."
"I just relaxed," Reese said. "I just needed to relax. I relaxed."
The attack came at about 8:20 on a balmy London night, much more manageable jumping conditions than Tuesday's wind and rain. Reese took to the runway, hit the board just right, landed, got up and saw the mark, farther than anybody else in the field had ever jumped. Reese gave a fist pump, a couple claps and went over to see Walker.
"When she comes out and does what she does tonight," Walker said, "she's jumping against herself. "She's pretty intimidating."
Reese moved into the lead over Sokolova, and the top two wouldn't change over the next four rounds. Reese fouled three more times, hitting just three of nine jumps over the two days, the worst rate of the finalists. But she attacked.
"She gives me and a lot of other people a standard to go by," said DeLoach, like Reese a former accomplished basketball player (though DeLoach can't dunk).
The standard Reese has yet to reach is that of Joyner-Kersee, the American record holder at 24-7. Reese texts with Joyner-Kersee. The last time the two met face to face was Olympic trials -- won by Reese, her fifth straight national title -- where Joyner-Kersee told her the Olympic gold was hers for the taking.
"I kept that with me," Reese said.
Now, Reese will attempt to do what Joyner-Kersee couldn't, defend her title. She'll have to do it without Walker's immediate presence. He's moving from Oxford, Miss., to Louisville (where his son coaches), retiring after 30 seasons at Ole Miss. She's leaving the only state she's ever lived in for the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.
It's not over. They're going to try a distance coaching relationship.
"I don't think Brittney and I would want to change anything," Walker said. "Would you?"