Following a basketball practice during his junior year at Desert Pines High, Reindell Cole was approached by one of the Jaguars’ coaches with a proposal.
The coach was so impressed with the athleticism Cole showed on the court he asked him to consider joining the school’s track team at the conclusion of the basketball season.
“You could see his athleticism, jumping ability and quickness were at another level,” said DeShawn Henry, who coached in both the track and basketball programs. “After the basketball season, I stayed on him and stayed on him to do track. When I finally got him out there, he went on to win the high jump and long jump in his first meet and was hooked.”
Seven years later, Cole is still winning track meets. And, if he continues to progress, he’ll be in contention to compete this summer in the world’s biggest track meet at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Cole, 24, has been training primarily in the long jump since September at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., with hopes of earning a spot on the Olympic team.
Even though he took up the sport as a high school junior, Cole’s raw ability has compensated for a lack of knowledge about the sport’s proper technique and enabled him to become one of the nation’s top jumpers.
“I’m just now starting to get a grasp of what it takes,” he said. “I’m learning how to have better mechanics in the running form, position and where to take off from on the board.”
Cole was a two-time Nevada state champion in the long jump at Desert Pines to earn a scholarship to Cal State Northridge. During his freshman year at Northridge, despite still having limited training in footwork needed, Cole won the NCAA Indoor Championship with a leap of 26 feet, 7.75 inches to land firmly on the radar of USA coaches.
He went from a relative unknown to Olympic prospect in virtually one meet.
“That first year at Northridge, my coach let me do what I wanted. I would run and jump but had no idea on the technique involved in doing things properly,” Cole said. “I came out of nowhere to win the national title.”
But Cole, despite being a national champion, still wasn’t completely sold on being a track athlete. He still had a passion for basketball and would play pickup games nightly until the wee hours of the morning. He even hoped to play professionally overseas.
Not being completely dedicated to track hurt his chances of making the Olympic team four years ago during the Olympic Trials in Sacramento. He finished 12th with a jump of 25-0 but was hindered during the competition after re-twisting his ankle — an old basketball injury that hadn’t fully healed.
So, when national team coaches invited him to Chula Vista, Cole knew the rare opportunity of making the Olympic team needed his full attention. He hasn’t picked up a basketball since.
He practices three times daily under the watchful eye of some of the sport’s top coaches and realizes the dream of making the Olympics is a goal that’s more than attainable. Daily, he’s reminded of the importance of representing the red, white and blue.
“Everything around the facility is Team USA this and Team USA that,” he said. “Oh, my God, it’s so beautiful here. The track sits on a lake (the Lower Otay Reservoir), and it’s a perfect atmosphere. It makes you feel good to train.”
Cole twice earned All-American honors during his three-year career at Northridge, including placing third at the NCAA Outdoor Championships last spring. He left college this year before his senior season to train at the center, realizing the coaching and facilities immediately enhance his chances in June during the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.
He also has an outside chance of qualifying for the Olympics as a sprinter, where he competed in relay events at Northridge. Yes, he’s that talented athletically.
“He has phenomenal physique,” Henry said. “When you look at the kid, you’ll say, ‘Wow, this kid is put together.’ (National coaches) are jockeying him in the long jump and sprints to find him a niche. That’s a testament to his athletic ability. They are hoping to refine his ability and let his athleticism come through.”