PHOENIX, Arizona, July 16. BEFORE he left with the U.S. Olympic team for training camp in France, Cullen Jones spoke about his preparation for London for today's edition of The Morning Swim Show.
Jones relives the mental changes in his preparation that helped him win the 50 freestyle and place second in the 100 at the Olympic Trials, as well as the advantages of training with some of the top sprinters in the country. He also discusses his work with getting more minorities involved in swimming, and how the presence of Anthony Ervin, Lia Neal and himself could help bring more exposure to the sport. Be sure to visit SwimmingWorld.TV for more video interviews.
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Tiffany Elias: This is The Morning Swim Show for Monday, July 16th 2012. I'm your host Tiffany Elias. And speaking with us today over the phone is one of the United States' leading sprinters, joining us from Knoxville, Tennessee is Cullen Jones. Cullen, I'm glad we could have you on the show today. How are you doing?
Cullen Jones: I'm doing great. Thank you for having me from sunny Knoxville.
Tiffany Elias: Sunny – is that sarcastic? Is it stormy over there?
Cullen Jones: Actually it is sunny today but it's been raining all week so, yes, it's actually nice today. No sarcasm today.
Tiffany Elias: Here in Arizona we got some rain too so it must be going around the country. All right, so you guys are finishing up training camp over there, headed off to France tomorrow, is that correct?
Cullen Jones: That is correct and we'll be training there for a week too so training camp never stops.
Tiffany Elias: Well you're almost there. So let's rewind and go back to Trials. You've been on the radar for a long time now. Going back to 2008 you were on that team as well, unfortunately grabbing those third place finishes in the individual events, so only able to do relays but I would say a world record relay isn't too bad. But going into 2012, grabbing first in the 50, second in the 100, what were your emotions at Trials this year?
Cullen Jones: I think I was more shocked at the placement than anything else. The times, I don't really set concrete times in my head, I always kind of focus on making sure that I swim as fast as I can possibly do and executing the race plan the way that my coach has set up for me, so I really don't make times in my head but the 21.5 and the 48.4 I was pretty ecstatic with that and to be first and second definitely makes up for the third and third in 2008.
Tiffany Elias: Oh definitely. Now in a prior interview you had said that in 2008 you were just a mess emotionally, you were just – nerves were getting the best of you – and then in 2012 you were extremely relaxed and laid back. Was the transition just the experience or how did you get to relax those nerves?
Cullen Jones: I definitely think that experience did play a role. I needed that for the first 100 freestyle, I couldn't go out like a mad man and use up all my energy to make semis. I know I needed to not exactly pace myself because there's no such thing in the 100 but I definitely executed it correctly so that I knew that I had a little bit more for semi-finals and then for finals so maturity definitely played a big role. Another thing is my fitness level was at an all time high for sure. With all the training that I've done and with all the preparations that I've had at swimming it's been an amazing year and I've been training with some of the best sprinters in the world – Josh Schneider and Nick Brunelli, Bryan Lundquist held me accountable every single day that I stepped on deck and I have to say thank you to them and to the preparations that I've done.
Tiffany Elias: So now you're training out in Knoxville and on to France and before Trials. What exactly are you focusing now on getting prepared?
Cullen Jones: As David would say it's really – my coach – it's really sharpening everything. You don't want to reinvent the wheel. We've done so much work towards this moment and we went straight back into weights, we went straight back into longer yardage at practices so you just really never have any rest for the weary, you really go right back into it and I think in France we're going to kind of taper down a little bit more but this week we've been really focused on nailing turns correctly, executing starts right, really finishing hard and doing everything possible to kind of shave off those few extra seconds.
Tiffany Elias: So now you mentioned you were shocked by your first place touch in the 50 but were you equally shocked that Anthony Ervin was able to get in there for the second place touch?
Cullen Jones: You know I've watched Anthony swim since he was 19, watching him race with Gary Hall Jr. and seeing how fast he is and his ability to kind of just carry momentum from the start all the way to the finish. Now I really wasn't in shock – he's been swimming well all year and he was a definitely favorite for that 50 freestyle position so I wasn't shocked at all but I was thankful – it was a great swim and he's an amazing person to have as a teammate for the 50 freestyle. I've watched him train this past week and his maturity level is through the roof also and I've learned a lot from him. I hope to execute that definitely in the 50 free when it comes to winning.
Tiffany Elias: Well he's definitely one of the veterans on the team as well. Now speaking of Anthony, the two of you are two of the first African-Americans to make the US Swim Team and joining the two of you this year is also Lia Neal. So what does that mean to you going into London?
Cullen Jones: It's amazing to see this kind of integration in the sport and having three African-Americans on the Olympic team is definitely something I think a lot of people have been waiting to see and hopefully we can see more of it. It's amazing that this is the year that all three of us – I'm so proud of Lia Neal. I've trained with her in and out. Her being in New York, I've been up there swimming with her at AQUA from time to time and to see her make the team was huge. She was a little nervous going into the finals and I told her “You've done all the training, don't worry about it, go, put your hand on the wall, make the team” and she did it perfectly. Her coach, Rachel, is an amazing coach and I've seen her blossom as a coach and I've seen Lia blossom as a swimmer so I'm really happy to see her make the team this year.
Tiffany Elias: Yes, it's really exciting. So you've been very open with your past experiences, the adversity you faced growing up, and you said that it's really helped shape not only the swimmer but the person you are today. You're affiliated with a couple of different programs that we want to touch on, so the first of which is Citi's Every Step of the Way. Can you give us more information on what that is and how you're involved and what you guys are doing with that program?
Cullen Jones: Absolutely – throughout the four years of me working with Make a Splash I've been kind of blessed to catch the eye of great organizations but Citibank is definitely the top of the list. With all the work it's reaching a million kids with Make a Splash Citibank has graciously added me on to their team Citi. It's been a great help for us, we're trying to help with drowning prevention. We're trying to get as many kids into the pool and water safe as possible. They've graciously donated $500,000 to the USOC which is 50 million thank you points and for all those that do use Citibank it's just as easy as clicking for any athlete that you would love to support which of course should be me. (laughs) I think I'm currently second to Sanya Richard-Ross so it's been amazing, all the money definitely helps, and those that are voting are definitely making a big, big help in saving lives.
Tiffany Elias: So now will they be – how will this go forward post-London, just they keep doing the same things as far as trying to raise money for these programs?
Cullen Jones: Absolutely. For those that want to be a part it's as easy as going to citi.com\everystep and voting for an athlete and that money, whoever wins that, will go towards their initiative. Like I said Make a Splash, Phillips 66 and USA Swimming Foundation has really taken the first step towards making that known for everyone in the US drowning is a big issue, we need to get our kids water safe, and like I said I've been working for it for the past four years and I'm hoping to do it for another four and hopefully with all the work that we do in the London Games – Anthony, Lia, and I swimming our minds out in London – we'll just be shining more light on the issue.
Tiffany Elias: Now with the USA Swimming Foundation's Make s Splash this is to also help raise money for the swim lessons. Now is it true you had a personal experience back when you were a child where you had a near incident that kind of sparked your desire to help be engaged more in these programs?
Cullen Jones: Absolutely. At the age of five I almost drowned and that's why this is so close to my heart because I could have been one of the statistics that we're all reading about, thanks to the University of Memphis, the study that they put out in 2007 that says that African-Americans are three times more likely to drown than any other race and as of 2010 that number has changed to 70% so we have a more tangible number. It's an amazing statistic, it's something that I didn't really believe at first until I started thinking about my own family and friends and that I could have almost been one of that 70%. So yes I feel very strongly on this and because I almost drowned I can almost connect – not almost – I definitely connect with all those people that have had those traumatic incidents.
Tiffany Elias: Well we'll make sure to put more information on the website for how people can help support these foundations so that we can keep helping the cause.
Cullen Jones: I appreciate it.
Tiffany Elias: No problem. So wrapping up, heading into London, how are your emotions different than heading into Beijing?
Cullen Jones: I think that my focus is an all-time high. I have been working so much harder, not that I wasn't in 2008 but definitely harder in all aspects, whether it be just my focus on the water, whether it be how I'm training, the weight room, everything has been me giving everything that I possibly can and I did that at Trials and it paid off so hopefully in London it will be the same.
Tiffany Elias: Well Cullen you've done a great job and we definitely look forward to watching you in London and hopefully catching up with you as well over there.
Cullen Jones: Thanks.
Tiffany Elias: Thanks for joining us.
Cullen Jones: I appreciate it.
Tiffany Elias: We'll see you in London.
Cullen Jones: Thank you. See you in London.
Tiffany Elias: Well that concludes today's Morning Swim Show. Make sure to keep up with all the latest news by following us on Facebook and Twitter @swimming world. Thanks for watching The Morning Swim Show. I'm Tiffany Elias. And join us again for tomorrow's show with Scott Weltz, one of the biggest upset swimmers at this year's Olympic Trials.
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