One more jump. That’s all it took to send Tianna Bartoletta into a injury-led decline that was almost terminal for her career. She tells SPIKES about how rehab is more than just physical.

At a pre-meet workout ahead of the 2006 Norwich Union International in Birmingham, Tianna Bartoletta, still only 22 but already a double world long jump champion, was training with her US team.

“I did jump off a short run-up and my right leg locked into place,” the Ohio-born athlete explains. “I couldn't rotate it to get an extension. I landed in the pit straight legged. My leg buckled backwards and absorbed all that force. I collapsed into the pit. I knew it was really bad.”

With no obvious substitute on the US team and not wanting to let her team-mates down, she bravely blocked out the pain and competed the next day – jumping a modest 6.10m for sixth.

One week later she miraculously concluded her season with victory at the DécaNation match in Paris with 6.60m.

But on her return home, when she collapsed on the streets of Los Angeles en route to a physio appointment, the true severity of the injury became apparent.

“I was stepping up from the kerb to the pavement after parking my car when my leg gave way,” she explains. “It was completely embarrassing.” 

Tianna Bartoletta SPIKES ()

Bartoletta was a double long jump world champion by the age of 20

Embarrassment was the least of her worries. Bartoletta was diagnosed with a bad meniscus tear: the bones in the backside of the patella were broken, almost certainly caused by that extra leap in Birmingham.

With no ligament damage, the injury could have been worse and she underwent surgery. Bones were shaved down and cartilage repaired, and the same evening she was walking, within a few weeks she was running.

But once she returned, Bartoletta was unable to hit top form. She finished tenth when defending her world title as a ‘wildcard’ at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka. When the season closed she was ranked 56th in the world.

Then in 2008, she failed to make the US team for the Beijing Olympics. By 2009 she was barely jumping 6m.

Bartoletta was gripped by fear on the runway.

“We were not as diligent about my mental rehabilitation as we were with my physical rehabilitation,” she explains. “What we didn’t properly address was my fear of being hurt again while jumping.

“Before the injury my style was going from 0 to 100mph in 35m, getting to the board and just going to jump. There wasn’t much technique. After the injury I became hesitant on that penultimate step, which sets up the jump. I became too timid to put all my body weight on that leg. I didn't have that fearlessness or recklessness I needed to attack the board to jump far.” 

Tianna Bartoletta SPIKES ()

Bartoletta says she wasn't prepared for the mental toll that injury would take one her

She found the experience as a two-time world champion of barely being able to jump 6m as “completely embarrassing”. She finished 14th and last at the 2009 US Championships with a best of 5.86m – more than a metre behind the champion Brittney Reese.

She could bear it no longer and switched her attention to sprinting. However, the poor results continued. She described herself disparagingly as a “non-factor” in the sport and was all set to quit.

“I would go as far to say it was depressing,” she explains candidly. Bartoletta had switched coaches and events, but still couldn’t find her form.

Yet, two things happened in 2011 that changed the whole course of her career. One: she met her husband John Bartoletta, who she married the following year. And two: she hooked up with highly-rated sprints and jumps coach Rana Reider, who had moved to Daytona Beach, about two-and-a-half hours from her home in Tampa, Florida.

Reider quickly delivered a few home truths to the former world champion, tearing apart her training regime, diet and attitude. Harsh stuff, but it worked.

“From that point on I went in with the attitude that I would not do anything less than 100 per cent,” Bartoletta says. “Even the most mundane things, I would do with the maximum effort.” 

Tianna Bartoletta SPIKES ()

Coach Rana Reider helped Bartoletta rekindle her form in the sprints

She overhauled her diet and shed excess weight. She practiced her ankle movement to perfect Dorsiflexion. Her husband played the diligent supporting role, cooking the meals and getting the gas for that five-hour round trip to Daytona Beach.

Then in early 2012, she posted a world leading time of 7.02 for the 60m in Arkansas. She landed the US 60m indoor title and world indoor bronze in Istanbul. She was an athlete reborn.

Outdoors, her progress was just as spectacular. She made the US Olympic team and set a lifetime best of 10.85 to finish fourth in the women’s 100m final at the London Olympics before featuring in the world record-breaking US quartet that struck gold in the 4x100m.

She was “elated” with her performance in London, but needed a break from the sport. So naturally, at the tail end of 2012, she took up bobsleigh. Remarkably, she made the US World Cup and finished third. But of greater significance was the experience.

“Every time I was getting in the bob I was planting on my penultimate leg and launching off my take-off leg into a perfect half pike position into the back of the bobsleigh,” she explains. “I thought ‘I've done this so many times with the penultimate leg, I might be ready to long jump’.”

Yet, there were further set-backs. In late-2012 Bartoletta and Reider parted company. In May last year she sustained nerve damage in her back, wiping out pretty much the whole of her season.

However, now fully in tune with her new coach Loren Seagrave, 2014 saw her finally emerge from the long jump wilderness.

She claimed three Diamond League wins en route to the overall title in the women’s long jump. She improved her PB from 6.89m (dating from her world championship success in 2005) up to her world leading mark of 7.02m. She has posted the four longest jumps in the world this year. Now aged 29, Bartoletta is well and truly back. 

Tianna Bartoletta SPIKES ()

Joy at last: Bartoletta has posted the four best long jumps in the world this year and enjoyed success on the track individually and with the US team

Nor has her sprinting wavered this year. She won the 100m at the US Championships, the 200m at the New York Diamond League, World Relay gold in the 4x100m, and bagged 60m bronze at the Sopot World Indoor Championships in March. 

Her future ambitions are to win medals in the 100m, long jump and 4x100m relay at the next three global championships – the 2015 and 2017 World Championships and 2016 Rio Olympics. It is a tall order, but after a long journey she has certainly got to the right place mentally to challenge.

“To be complete as an athlete I had to be complete as a person first,” she explains. “I had to address my life off the track. What you see now is a reflection of my happiness and the way that I am living my life.

“I now have unconditional support. I have also become more positive. At this time the sport is exciting and fun. I focus on the things that I can be proud of.”