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Cullen Jones Continues to Break Barriers

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By Leland Stein III

LONDON – “My father played basketball,” Cullen Jones told me in an interview. “I have the body and height for the sport, but I chose a different path,” he exclaimed. And he added, “I believe I chose the right path for me.” The 6-foot-5 Jones started swimming when he was eight, and, fell in love with the sport. Now 28-years-old he has seen the sport take him all over the world. “I was not afraid to put in the work, because it is a lot of work trying to train at a world-class level,” Jones said. “Especially in the United States swimming is one of the most competitive sports to be involved in.”

First, the US Swimming Trials and now the 2012 London Games have showed all that Jones’s gold medal in Beijing in 2008 was not a fluke. He’s demonstrated that he’s dedicated to the sport of swimming and is willing to endure the ups and downs of world-class competition. In fact, Jones had a rough couple years prior to the US Swimming Trials. He did not qualify for the US championship and the World championships. After winning gold in the 2008 Games, where he was a member of the electrifying 400-meter freestyle relay team that broke the world record in one of the most memorable races in history, Jones hit the talk circuit and became an ambassador for USA Swimming. Swimming kind of took a backseat for a minute.

“Hey I had been working so hard and living in the pool,” Jones exclaimed, “then I took some me time and enjoyed being young. After failing to make the world’s I realized that I had to make sure I kept swimming as my top priority. I went back to the pool and got myself ready for the US Trials.”

Jones’ gold medal in 2008 made him only the second African-American to win an Olympic swimming gold medal, and, he parlayed that into education minorities on swimming safety. Following his excellent showing in London where he won two silver medals, one as a member of the 4x100 relay and he got his first individual medal finishing a fingernail short of gold in the 50-meter freestyle.

“I thought I had the gold,” Jones said after the race. “I swam fast, got a go start and finished strong, but it just was not meant to be. “This has made me hungry for more. My coach told me I have a lot more swimming left in me if I’m willing to continue to put in the effort. He feels I can get even better in the 100 with some dedicated strength training. He has even mentioned the 200. But we will see about that.” Jones is one of the fastest freestyle sprinters in the world today and currently holds the American record in the 50 freestyle, but more importantly he wants to continue to reach out to young African-American kids.

Jones said he has partnered with the USA Swimming Foundation and Phillips 66 to raise awareness about the importance of learning to swim. The "Make a Splash with Cullen Jones Tour Presented by Phillips 66," is visiting cities throughout America. Jones shares his story about nearly drowning at a water park when he was five. Speaking to crowds as large as 1,000 children, he communicates the importance of water safety and learning to swim. Additionally, each tour stop includes an in-water lesson and the USA Swimming Foundation and Phillips 66 present a $5,000 grant to a learn-to-swim provider to provide free swimming lessons to local children.

“I realize that there have not been a lot of Black swimmers representing the US at the Games,” Jones said, “so I want to be a role model and maybe inspire kids to get involved in swimming, and, maybe use it as a vehicle improve their live and give them exposure to water safety.” After leaving London Jones said he will continued to educate parents, children and caregivers about the learn-to-swim resources available in their communities.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com.

Serena and Venus double up!

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By Leland Stein III

LONDON – Venus and Serena Williams have made The Wimbledon Lawn and Tennis Center their personal playground. The sisters have each won five Wimbledon singles titles. For Serena it has been an unbelievable month. First, she wins her fifth Wimbledon Grand Slam singles, then she comes right back and doubles her pleasure with two more gold medals – one in singles and her third gold medal in doubles with her sister Venus.

Serena and Venus now have won four gold medals each. They have three doubles titles together, 2000 in Sydney, 2008 in Beijing Games and now the ladies can add 2012 to their rising gold medal collection. Venus won her singles gold at the 2000 Games. The sisters have become the most decorated tennis players in the modern history of the Olympic Games. Since Venus had already won a singles gold, Serena told me she really wanted to get it done at these Games; however, she was quick to add the doubles was more important to her. “It was so exciting to win singles,” Serena said following her double’s gold venture, “but like I said at the beginning of the tournament my main goal was to get another gold medal in doubles. There’s something about standing next to Venus and holding that gold medal. Three times we have played in the Olympics together and three times we have got the gold medal. We are pretty stoked about it.”

Added Venus: “It is so exciting being in the Olympics and winning the gold with your sister. It has been amazing watching Serena, seeing her win the singles title and completing the golden slam. We have been winning the doubles title together since 2000, so we come in here as the favorite, but it’s easier said than done.

Surely Venus and Serena are not the young kids on the block anymore as each is over 30 When Serena swept through the 2012 Wimbledon field to claim her 14th Grand Slam title, many marveled because in the tennis world longevity is not how world-class tennis players evolve. Serena and Venus appear to be breaking the mold, by managing to sustain a world-class competitive level. The sisters said they have a lot more tennis left in them.

“I think we love it more than anything,” Serena said. “We don’t do it for any other reason outside of pure joy. It is a great opportunity to do something that you love every day. Not everyone gets to do that with their lives. So we really enjoy these moments.” Added Venus: “I think for us, knowing that we have so much more to give, that we still have great tennis in our racquets. We want to be able when we’re done, to look back and say we gave everything.”

Serena in particular has been playing spectacular tennis. She outlasted the Wimbledon women’s stellar field a month ago and came right back and overwhelmed an equally stellar Olympic field. She took Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova to task in straight sets. On why she is playing such great tennis right now Serena said she just gives all the glory to God for getting her healthy. Then she added with a smile: “Lately I’ve been focused only on tennis, nothing else, no distractions, no life. My life is practice in the morning, training in the afternoon. Wake up to practice in the morning and training. Definitely been spending a lot of time on the tennis court. I have a nothing-to-lose attitude. Maybe my health concerns gave me a new fire that I would not have had.”

Serena has played in 17 Grand Slam Finals, winning 14. She is No. 4 all-time in Grand Slam singles victories and Venus has made it to 14 Grand Slam Finals, winning seven times, and, it appears they there may be more on the horizon.

Roddick Eliminated in Tennis Men's Singles

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ANDY RODDICK (Austin, Texas) was eliminated from the tennis men's singles competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Roddick fell in the second round to Novak Djokovic of Serbia, 6-2, 6-1, on Centre Court at Wimbledon.

Venus Williams Eliminated in Women's Singles

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VENUS WILLIAMS (Coral Gables, Fla.) was eliminated from the women's singles tournament in a tight match against Germany's Angelique Kerber Wednesday afternoon, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5) in play on Court 2 of Wimbledon.

Lochte Takes First U.S. Gold in 400 IM

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RYAN LOCHTE (Daytona Beach, Fla.) earned the United States' first gold medal of the London 2012 Olympic Games with his victory in the men's 400m individual medley at the Aquatics Centre Saturday evening.

Lochte posted a time of 4:05.18, 3.68 seconds ahead of silver medalist Thiago Pereira of Brazil. The bronze medal was won by Kosuke Hagino of Japan, who matched the Asian record of 4:08.94. MICHAEL PHELPS (Baltimore, Md.) was fourth in 4:09.28.

Lochte extends a run where he has medaled in every Olympic event he has swum in. His gold-medal time was the second-fastest in Olympic history, behind only the 4:03.84 by Phelps at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, which remains the world record in the event. Lochte's five individual medals ranks him eighth among all Olympians and fifth among male Olympians.

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