Brittney Reese, with her adopted son, Alex, her inspiration to compete in the 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo.

Before Gulfport native Brittney Reese became a world champion long jumper, an Olympic gold medalist and a single mother, she was high school and junior college basketball star with a decision to make:

Basketball or track and field?

Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Joe Walker, then the highly successful Ole Miss track and field coach, was lobbying hard for track and field and found a strong ally in Reese’s mother, Carla Young.

Young, the single mother of three daughters, strongly believed her middle child could better control her own destiny as a jumper and runner.

“I just reminded Brittney that in basketball you depend on other people, your teammates,” Young says. “In track and field you don’t depend on anybody but yourself. You are in total control. That was our conversation.”

Rick Cleveland

Brittney Reese listened. The rest is remarkable history. Reese, who will turn 33 next month, went on to become an SEC and NCAA champion at Ole Miss, an eight-time United States long jump champion, a five-time world champion and the 2012 Olympic golf medalist. Most recently, she won her sixth USA outdoor long jump title. In late September, she will compete in the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar.

These days, Reese divides her time between the demands of training for the world championships and next year’s Olympics and raising her 11-year-old son, Alex Wildee, whom she adopted three years ago. Wildee, the birth son of one of Reese’s childhood friends, was Reese’s godson before she actually adopted him. She wants to provide for Alex the same loving care and guidance that her mother provided for her.

And wouldn’t you know it? Alex is an athlete, too. He recently won the long jump championship at a big junior meet in San Diego, near where his mother trains.

“He says he’s gonna have more medals than me,” Reese says, laughing.

If so, he’s got a ways to go.

Brittney Reese en route to Olympic Gold in London in 2012. Aug 8

Mississippi has a long, long history of producing world-class long jump champions, both male and female. Ralph Boston of Laurel famously won three Olympics medals in three consecutive Olympics, a gold, a silver and a bronze. Larry Myricks of Clinton was a four-time world champion. Willye B. White of Money was a multi-events competitor in five different Olympics and won the silver medal in the long jump as a 16-year-old high school sophomore in Melbourne, Australia. World champion sprinter Tori Bowie, will also represent the U.S. in the long jump at the world championships in Qatar.

None of those track and field giants have won more international medals than Reese, who knows she is nearing the end of her monstrously successful career.

“I don’t know yet,” she answers when asked how much longer she will compete. “I still enjoy going to training. I still enjoy the working out for the most part. But the aches and pains don’t go away as quickly as they used to. It’s definitely not as easy to get out of bed in the morning. We’ll see how it goes in Qatar…”

She and her coach toned down her training this summer. In fact, Reese says she was at only “80 percent of my best” when she won the U.S. championships at Des Moines, Iowa.

“Right now, I’m working on that other 20 percent,” she says.

She’s also working on raising Alex, helping coach his youth track and field team two times a week in addition to her own training.

“Alex has got some ability,” Reese says. “I told him I wouldn’t coach him unless he was ready to take it seriously. So far, so good. He wants to win. He’s a good boy.”

He is also her inspiration to continue competing after the world championships. The 2020 Olympic Games are in Tokyo next July.

“I want to compete in one more Olympics,” Reese says. “I want Alex to be there. I want him to experience it.”

Brittney Reese, taking advice from former Ole Miss coach Joe Walker, who recruited her out of Gulfport and Gulf Coast Community College.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.