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Cullen Jones: Still Making A Splash

By Jo-Ann Barnas | June 27, 2013, 5 p.m. (ET)

Cullen Jones swims in the warm-up pool before the start of the Santa Clara International Grand Prix at the George F. Haines International Swim Center on May 30, 2013 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones arrives at the Glade Suite at the Soul
Train Awards 2012 at PH Live at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino
on Nov. 8, 2012 in Las Vegas.

INDIANAPOLIS -- In the air and on the road, the miles keep coming for Cullen Jones — not just in the months after winning three Olympic medals at the London Games, but in the weeks leading up to the Phillips 66 National Championships and World Championship Trials.

“It’s been pretty hectic,” he said of his treasure trove of business and charitable endeavors, including serving as a major spokesperson for the USA Swimming Foundation’s “Make a Splash” initiative. “The craziest stretch had to be last month before Memorial Day.”

Indeed. Over 10 days in May, Jones — the Olympic silver medalist in the men’s 50-meter freestyle — took a total of seven flights during a five-city tour, including back-to-back jaunts to New York and another to Houston for a commercial shoot. He was grateful when the traveling ended in familiar territory — in the water — for the Santa Clara Grand Prix.

Jones, who makes Charlotte, N.C., and David Marsh’s SwimMAC Carolina club his home training base, estimates he has logged more than 50,000 air miles since returning from London.

“At least,” he said. “I’ve been the poster child for everything this year. I’ve been on more planes than I care to count. Every two weeks, I’ve been gone at least once.”

As he sat on the top row of a set of aluminum bleachers Wednesday at the Indiana University Natatorium on the campus of IUPUI — a night that was highlighted by double gold medals each won by Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin in the 200-meter freestyle and 200 backstroke — Jones smiled as he talked about the opportunities he has embraced while trying to maintain his status as one of the world’s elite sprinters.

Though fulfilling, it hasn’t been easy.

On Tuesday, for example, Jones, 29, attended a dinner meeting at a BBQ restaurant in Indy to discuss plans for a new safety product for swimming. He would have stayed longer but left at 10 p.m., because he needed to be at the pool early the next morning for the prelims of the men’s 50 butterfly.

Jones was pleased with the outcome: He turned in the fourth-fastest prelim time (23.86) and advanced to the championship final, taking sixth in 23.97. Eugene Godsoe won the event in 23.29.

Still Jones knows of his challenge ahead. In order to make his first U.S. world team since 2009 in his specialty event — Saturday’s 50 free — Cullen must get past Nathan Adrian and Anthony Ervin, among others.

Adrian and Ervin have already qualified for next month’s world meet in Barcelona. Adrian, the London Olympic gold medalist in the 100 free, won that event here Monday. Ervin, the 50 free Olympic gold medalist in 2000 (the infamous tie with Gary Hall Jr.), earned a world team relay spot for Barcelona with his third-place finish behind Adrian and Jimmy Feigen.

Cullen Jones swims in the 50-meter freestyle during the Santa Clara
International Grand Prix at the George F. Haines International Swim
Center on June 1, 2013 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Meanwhile, Jones failed to advance to the championship final of the 100 free at nationals; his time of 50.07 seconds placed him 18th overall in the heats.

On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being ranked as the best, Jones was asked to compare his level of racing fitness today compared to London.

“At those Olympics, I was a 10 — in the zone,” said Jones, who placed .20 seconds behind France’s Florent Manaudou’s winning time of 21.34 seconds in the 50 free. “I felt great. I swam a relay that day before and shut it down with 50 to go, and I was 48.20 and David (Marsh) was, like, ‘Wow.’”

In London, Jones also swam on the U.S. 400 free relay that finished second to France and took home gold as a member of the 400 medley relay team.

Jones, a 2007 world silver medalist in the 50 free, earned his first Olympic gold medal at the Beijing Games in 2008, helping the U.S. 400 free relay earn a gold medal.

“Compared to London, I think I’m at maybe a six or seven out 10 right now, and that’s because it’s been a rollercoaster for me as far as all of the other things I’ve been doing,” he said. “But for the 50 free, I’d say I’m in much better shape (compared to the 100) because I know that event and know how to train it.

“I still think I have an amazing shot to be on this world team. I have the ability to get my hand on that wall for first or second. I know it’s going to be tough with Nathan and Anthony in there, but I really do feel like I have a good shot.”

Marsh, who has coached Jones for the past six years, said there’s no pressure on Jones — who has committed to keep swimming through the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro — to perform at an optimum level this week.

“Cullen is swimming for the next Olympics,” Marsh said. “This year, we’ll let happen what happens. He’s going to try the best at this meet as he can, and there’s plenty of upside in that. If you want to be a good coach, you need to learn as much from the athletes as they learn from you. And I’ve learned a lot from Cullen watching how he goes about business. When it comes to the most important things in our sport, which is performance oriented, he’s as good as I’ve ever seen. He’s really special in performance — he gets the most out of whatever he does.

“And then, to back it up — the yin-and-yang of training — he likes the yin more than the yang. We all know that. But at the same time, when he goes into what I call training camp mode, which is what happened around the Olympics and even at the Olympic training camp, he actually improved during that window of time. It’s like a boxer. He thinks like a boxer going off to training camp, that remote site, and diving in. When he does that, Cullen just takes off. He’s not a traditional swimmer.”

Ironically, Jones has actually begun incorporating boxing into his fitness training once or twice a week.

“That’s new this year,” he said. “I think I’m going to continue to do that, just for this year.”

Jones said that his strength coach, Darin Tyson, director of strength and conditioning at Queens University in Charlotte, has already sent him his workout schedule for next year.

Both Marsh and Jones agree that the next couple of years will see the swimmer becoming more focused on the 100 free.

“I did some amazing freestyles in London,” Jones said. “I think he (Marsh) saw me in the 100 in a way he had never seen me do it before. He said, ‘You have the stroke for it, you have the endurance for it, we just need to train it.’”

Marsh said: “His 100 free probably has more potential for improving than even his 50. His 50 has already been 21.4, and with that time you can have a chance to win at the highest level on any given day. The 100 — he has the capacity to be a lot better in that. His stroke actually lends itself a little bit more to the 100 because he uses more lift forces in his stroke than most sprinters.”

Jones said he has no choice to improve, adding that SwimMAC soon will be welcoming a couple of elite freestylers into their training group “that are definitely going to push me.” He declined to identify them.

A longtime advocate of water safety, Jones is a primary spokesperson for Make a Splash. The national, child-focused water safety initiative teaches children lifesaving skills of learn-to swim. The statistics among children who have little or no swimming abilities is highest among minorities, according to the USA Swimming Foundation.

“So many parents allow their children to go into a pool and they don’t know how to swim,” Jones said. “They just want to play around and horseplay.”

Ervin considers Jones a champion among champions because of what he’s done for swimming beyond competition.

“Shy of Michael Phelps, he’s done the most amount of work in our sport to broaden the base,” Ervin said.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Jo-Ann Barnas is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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Cullen Jones