At age five Cullen Jones nearly drowned while splashing around at a Pennsylvania water park. Immediately after that incident his mother Debra enrolled him in swim lessons and it soon became clear that Jones had natural talent as a swimmer. Jones was born on February 29, 1984 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Jones grew up in Irvington, New Jersey. He started his age group swimming career with the Metro Express Marlins Swim Team in West Orange, New Jersey before switching to the Jersey Gators Swim Team in Cranford, New Jersey. In those years, Jones was one of a small number of African-American competitors in the sport, but now he uses his notoriety and influence to inspire more children from minority communities to become swimmers.
Jones headed to Raleigh, North Carolina to attend North Carolina State University and quickly solidified himself as one of the greatest sprinters in ACC history. Jones attended NC State from 2002 to 2006. During that time he was a four-time ACC champion and the 2006 NCAA Division 1 champion in the 50 free with a time of 19.18. Jones also won the 50 free at the 2005 World University Games. That 50 free win made him the first African-American athlete to win a gold medal in the history of the World University Games.
2006 Pan Pacific Championships /2006 World Championships
2006 proved to be an exceptional year for Jones; he won golds at Pan Pacs in the 50 free and as part of the 400 free relay as well as a silver in the 50 free and a bronze on the 400 free relay at World Championships. That Pan Pacs-winning 400 free relay team also set a world record, making Jones the second swimmer of African-American heritage to break a world record in swimming (Anthony Ervin was the first). Jones also took home a silver in the 50 free and a bronze in the 400 free relay at the 2006 Short Course World Championships.
Jones turned professional in 2006 when he signed a multi-year contract with Nike. In 2007, Jones proved that he was a true professional, making that year’s US World Championship team. At that year’s World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, Jones took home a gold as part of the 400 free relay and a silver in the 50 free. In these years before the 2008 Olympic Games, Jones was solidifying himself as a world-class sprint standout.
2008 US Olympic Trials
The 2008 US Olympic Trials saw Jones finish third in both the 100 free and the 50 free, thus earning him a spot on the 2008 US Olympic Team. Jones held the American Record in the 50 free for one day during those Olympic Trials. At the Games in Beijing, Jones made history again; by winning a gold medal as part of the 400 free relay team he became only the second swimmer of African-American descent to do so (the first was Anthony Ervin). That relay also set a world record.
2009 US Nationals – Breaking The American Record
Jones is the American Record holder in the 50 free (21.40), a benchmark he set at the 2009 US National Championships. Also in 2009, Jones won a gold medal at the World Championships in Rome as part of the 400 free relay. He finished 5th in the 50 free at that meet as well.
2012 Olympic Games in London
2012 saw Jones make his second Olympic Team. At the Games in London, he earned silver medals in the 50 free (21.54), as part of the 400 free relay, and a gold medal as a member of the 400 medley relay (he swam the freestyle leg during the prelims).
Jones continued to train at SwimMac based in Carolina with fellow Olympians Ryan Lochte and Tyler Clary. At the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships he finished 10th in the 50 meter freestyle and 33rd in the 100 meter freestyle. A year later at the Pan American Championships he won a bronze medal as part of the 400 meter freestyle relay and finished 5th in the 50 meter freestyle.
At the 2016 U.S Olympic Jones was hoping to shock some people by making his 3rd Olympic Games at age 31. After winning the 50 freestyle four years before, Jones went in to the event seeded 5th. He managed to move up the rankings, but not enough to make the team. He finished 3rd, just 0.23 seconds away from punching his ticket to Rio. Earlier in the week he finished 29th in the 100 meter freestyle.
Outside the Pool
Throughout his career, Jones has been passionate about bringing more diversity to the sport of swimming. One project in the works is the Cullen Jones Diversity Invitational. The goal of the invitational is to create a truly multi-ethnic swim meet that would also combine education on water safety and the culture of competitive swimming. Jones is also an ambassador for the USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash initiative.
Originally developed by Christina Wright.