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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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