I have had my eyes glued to the computer screen and TV, watching the Olympic Trials in swimming. Although there were more than a dozen U.S. Masters Swimming members who made cuts and were competing in Omaha, I was cheering the most for Cullen Jones. Although Cullen won a gold medal, along with Michael Phelps, as a member of the freestyle relay team that won gold in 2008, he had just missed making the team in his two individual events: 50 meter and 100 meter freestyle.
I had the honor of meeting Cullen, in April, 2010, when I competed in my first U.S. Masters Swimming Nationals meet, at Georgia Tech. It was only my second USMS meet as a newbie and I was a bit intimidated by the level of competition at the meet that included Olympians, such as Rowdy Gaines- and, Cullen Jones. But, that quickly melted away when I met Cullen face-to-face…
While warming up in the dive tank, Cullen was in the next lane and we turned towards each other when we both reached the wall. Recognizing him, I introduced myself and wished him luck in his 50 meter showdown against Nicholas Brunelli. Cullen was friendly, humble, and gracious, while flashing his trademark HUGE smile that could melt any heart.
And, he honored the request of everyone else who either hoped for a photo or an autograph from the star swimmer. He never stopped smiling…
Fast forward to USMS Spring Nationals, this past April, in Greensboro, NC, and there was Cullen, warming up in the lane next to mine- again. Sure enough, we both came in at the wall and were face-to-face, just as we were back in 2010. I said hello, again, and reminded him of that time two years prior when we first met. Again, he was as friendly, humble, and gracious as could be. And, when I asked him if I could get another photo taken with him (because the one in 2010 wasn’t as clear as I had hoped), he said, “Sure!” So, I hopped out, ran up to the bleachers, grabbed my camera from Bruce, and high-tailed it back to the warm-up pool. One of the volunteer staff members was kind enough to take photos for me, so I quickly gave him the camera and started towards the edge of the pool, so I could hop back in and stand next to Cullen. But, before I could even get close, Cullen hopped out in a flash, threw his arm around me and flashed this million-dollar smile:
He insisted on knowing if the photo came out and asked to take another one, just to make sure:
Now, at this point, going above and way beyond, you would think he would have either hopped back in the pool to complete his warm-up or continue on his way to prepare for his big race against teammate Bryan Lundquist. Instead, he started asking me questions about my camera and about the attachment (Flip Back) that I had on the back. And, all the while, he was the nicest guy.
He did eventually get back in the pool and won his race. Here is the post-race interview:
What impresses me about Cullen Jones is where he has come, since almost drowning as a child, because he didn’t know how to swim. Not only has he become an Olympian; he has done this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a80uWqrkivE It’s a short video and well worth a look.
Now, in 2012, he was making another attempt at earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic Swimming team; this time, hopefully, in individual events, as well as the relay. Many had some doubts whether he would make the team, saying he was spending too much time with Make a Splash and not enough time training.
Cullen Jones proved his doubters wrong. Not only did he earn the second spot on the team in the 100 meter freestyle (from an outside lane, no less); he beat out the entire field and WON the 50 meter freestyle! Cullen Jones will be heading to London to compete in 2 individual events, four years after placing 3rd in both of those events, at the trials.
Cullen Jones may not come home from London with a gold- or even a medal- but he is good as gold in my book. Good luck in London, Cullen! I’ll be cheering for you from across the pond!
(For more info. about Make a Splash: http://www.usaswimming.org/DesktopDefault.aspx?TabId=2093&Alias=rainbow&Lang=en )