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The winner of two world long jump titles ten years apart and a joint world record holder in the women’s 4x100m, the exceptional Tianna Bartoletta took gold in both the long jump and sprint relay at Rio 2016.
Born on 30 August 1985 in Elyria, Ohio, Tianna Madison was a highly accomplished athlete in her youth, excelling in sprint events and the long jump for her local high school and winning a string of state titles. So prolific was she, that she appeared in Sports Illustrated at the age of 17, before attending the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where she became one of the greatest athletes in the institution’s history. After winning the NCAA indoor and outdoor long jump titles in 2005, she earned selection, at the age of only 19, for the event at that year’s IAAF World Championships in Helsinki.
Madison made her mark in the qualification round in the Finnish capital, outjumping the rest of the 27-strong field with a personal best of 6.83m. With her fifth jump in the following day’s final, she secured a surprise gold with a new PB of 6.89m, ahead of France’s Eunice Barber and Cuba’s Yargeris Savigne. Another world title came her way in Moscow the following March, when the young American took indoor gold with a jump of 6.80m.
Having, as she put it, “flown in under the radar”, Madison then eased off, all but disappearing from the track and field scene. Speaking in 2012, she said: “I had seven horrible seasons when I didn’t really train, didn’t really push myself, so I might still have the body of a 23-year-old, considering that I haven’t really been training hard for this entire period of time.”
That year proved to be a turning point for her, for it was in 2012 that she married John Bartoletta, the person she credits with reviving her flagging career. Returning to training full time, the new Mrs Bartoletta qualified for the 100m at London 2012, where she clocked a personal best 10.85 in taking fourth place in a final won by Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Six days later, she ran the lead-off leg in the 4x100m relay final, a race in which she and USA team-mates Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter set a new world record of 40.82, a time that has yet to be beaten.
Having revived her sprint career, Bartoletta set about brushing up her long jump skills, joining the USA’s bobsleigh team as a pusher, with that very goal in mind. “In bobsleighing, acceleration is vital,” she explained. “With that practice on the ice, I was able to come back to the long jump and improve my sprinting because I’d regained the muscle memory needed to get that extra bit of explosiveness.”
Selected for the long jump at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, Bartoletta secured her first gold in the event in ten years with a huge leap of 7.14m – a new PB and the longest jump of the year – putting her on top of the podium from Great Britain’s Shara Proctor and Serbia’s Ivana Španović.
After embarking on what she described as “Project 2016”, Bartoletta booked a double ticket to Rio 2016, earning selection at the US Olympic Team Trials – Track and Field in Eugene, Oregon, for the long jump and the 100m, in which she posted a superb time of 10.78. Though her Olympic 100m campaign would come to an end in the semi-finals, Bartoletta produced her very best in the long jump final four days later, posting a new PB of 7.17m with her fifth jump to beat compatriot and defending champion Brittney Reese to gold by a mere 2cm.
“Today I executed my plan perfectly, from the first to the sixth attempt,” she said after becoming one of the very few athletes to have won Olympic sprint and jump golds. “I don’t think I quite realised that until the very end of the competition and even then I think my first reaction was to make sure I’m ready for the relay tomorrow. My work isn’t finished yet, the celebrations can wait until after the relay. I’ve still got to do a job for my country.”
Initially disqualified in the first-round heat of the 4x100m relay, on account of a faulty exchange between English Gardner and Felix, Bartoletta and her team-mates appealed and were reinstated after it was found that Felix had been bumped by Brazil’s Kauiza Venancio and thrown off balance. Granted a rerun, the American quartet, led off by Bartoletta, posted the fastest time of the heats, and went on the following day to win gold in convincing fashion from Jamaica and Great Britain. After collecting her second gold medal of the Games and the third of her Olympic career, an ecstatic Bartoletta said: “I’m extremely happy. The journey to this point has been tumultuous. It’s special.”
The secret to her enduring success can be found in the motivational messages that adorn her official website: “Push Yourself. Focus Harder. Jump Further. Run Faster. Work Harder. Practice More. Stay Focused And Soar. Be Disciplined. Never Quit. Finish Strong. Committed. Determination. Intensity.” In breathing new life into her career and making it to the very top, Bartoletta has lived out those messages to the full.