Brittney Reese's silver medal signs off an Olympic long jump career that deserves way more flowers

·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·5-min read

TOKYO — The term "GOAT" gets thrown around way too much, to the point where it's in danger of being completely devalued. Not everyone or everything can be the greatest of all time.

But in cases where there is a legitimate debate to be had, the first thing to consider is what makes one a GOAT. Is it longevity? Is it records? Is it medals? 

American long jumper Brittney Reese competed in her fourth Olympics in Tokyo, and on Tuesday morning she won her third Olympic medal, this one silver. She already had a 2012 gold and 2016 silver. 

In the scenario every field athlete wants, Reese went into the sixth and final round with the lead and therefore was jumping last; given that it was such a close competition, it certainly was a benefit that she'd get to see how other women did and then have the final word. Malaika Mihambo of Germany, the reigning world champion, was in bronze medal position when the round began, and popped 7.00 meters (22 feet, 11.5 inches) on her last effort to go into the lead.

Knowing what she had to do — Reese's best was 6.97m (22-10.5) — she took the runway for the last time, poised to do what she had done to others before and claim victory on the last jump. 

But this time, it wasn't to be.

"I’m used to beating people on the sixth jump and I got beat on the sixth jump, so it’s kind of funny to end my career that way, but I’m grateful," Reese said. "I’m blessed."

Long jumper Brittney Reese has been soaring past the competition for years, but because she competes in a field event, she hasn't received the same attention as track athletes. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Long jumper Brittney Reese has been soaring past the competition for years, but because she competes in a field event, she hasn't received the same attention as track athletes. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

The 34-year-old had already decided this would be her last Olympics, the ones that were of course delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Listening to her after the competition, she seemed quite content with decision; she has a 13-year-old son, as well as a young man who was her godson when he was born to a childhood friend but whom she adopted several years ago, and she feels it is time to start spending her time supporting him. Her son Alex is a track and field athlete as well, following his mom into the long jump pit.

Which brings us back to the GOAT discussion.

Reese's handle on Twitter and Instagram is "daLJbeast" because of her dominance in the event. Asked Tuesday where she thinks she ranks among the best, she doesn't mince words.

"I am. Point blank," she said. "I have 11 medals. Individually at that. I have eight golds, three silvers. No long jumper has done that, male or female, I think."

Her resume backs it up: three Olympic medals, four World Championship golds, three World Indoor Championship golds and a silver, 13 total U.S. titles and two NCAA championships. 

In terms of distance, Reese's lifetime best of 7.31m (23-11.75) ties her with Marion Jones as the second-best American woman ever, behind Jackie Joyner-Kersee (7.49m, 24-6.75). Jones was tied to the BALCO doping scandal, which casts a shadow over all of her marks and times.

Eleven world medals, all from one individual event. The only person that comes close in terms of sheer volume is the great Carl Lewis, who won four Olympic and three World Championship golds in long jump.

There is no doubting Allyson Felix's sustained brilliance, but 11 of her 18 world championship medals were won as part of relays. 

Reese's greatness year after year should have made her one of the most-recognized names in the sport, but she (rightly) believes that because she does a field event the media spotlight was rarely turned on her. The long jump final began just before 10 p.m. ET, primetime for NBC, but that decision was almost certainly made to feature young star Tara Davis — telegenic, effervescent, and one half of a social media power couple with boyfriend Hunter Woodhall, a Paralympic sprinter.

"It just sucks that, you know, if I was on the track side of the sport, I’d be the Usain Bolt of running, but just being on the field events side, this doesn’t get that attention that it deserves," Reese said. "(But) I wasn’t placed here for that. I was placed here to inspire and I hope I did that in my career."

One of the younger jumpers she has inspired is the woman who would love nothing more than to take Reese's place atop the U.S. and world now that she's retiring. Davis has frequently called Reese her hero, and has watched videos of her on YouTube for years.

It's not right that Reese is getting so much attention at last, just as she's ending her competitive career, but that is the unfortunate reality for so many field event specialists. 

"I mean, it’s obvious. I have now 11 individual medals and ... no relay, no you know. But like I said, I’m not here for that," she said. "That’s not on my journey, that’s not what God placed me here to do, so if they don’t respect me from that, maybe I’ll get my flowers when I’m gone."

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