Cullen Jones, 2008 Olympian, swimming for more gold

JAIME C. HARRIS Special to the AmNews | 7/12/2012, 4:40 p.m.
Cullen Jones, 2008 Olympian, swimming for more gold

Another inspiring chapter in the unlikely narrative of Cullen Jones was written when the 28-year-old swimmer from Irvington, N.J., once again earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic swim team. Jones placed second in the men's 100-meter freestyle and third in the 50-meter at the Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb., garnering spots in two individual events and one relay, the 4x100.

Jones competed at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 as a member of the U.S. 4x100 relay contingent, winning a gold medal and garnering well-deserved attention as an African-American excelling in a sport in which few reach the world-class level.

"I've been dreaming of this forever, of qualifying for two individual events in the Olympics," said Jones after solidifying a trip to London in a few weeks. "The only thing different is in my dream, I'm giving better answers."

Socioeconomic factors are undeniable determinants in the lack of African-Americans who are elite competitive swimmers. Consequently, stories such as the one Jones continues to author are rare. He is only the third Black swimmer to make a U.S. Olympic team, sharing the uncommon distinction with Anthony Ervin, who is also of Jewish decent, and Maritza Correia, a Puerto Rican woman of African descent and winner of a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, swimming the preliminary races in the 400-meter freestyle relay.

Ervin, who won gold and silver medals as a 19-year-old in 2000 at the Sydney Olympic Games--where he was the first African-American ever to represent a U.S. Olympic team in swimming--culminated a feel-good comeback in Omaha after leaving the sport for several years by winning the 50-meter freestyle and cementing a spot in the London Olympic Games.

Ironically, as a youngster, the 6-foot-5 Jones was steered toward basketball by his father, Ronald, who played hoops for the Bronx Community College team. However, Jones, a graduate of North Carolina State, was hooked on swimming after he started taking lessons at 5 years old. The instruction began shortly after a family outing at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom in Allentown, Pa., with his dad and his mother, Debra. It was there that the young Jones nearly accidently drowned.

As an adult, Jones has become an outspoken and proactive advocate for water safety. His dad, who passed away from lung cancer when Jones was 16, remains an inspiration for his son.