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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Remember his name: Cullen Jones

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Once a ‘break dancer,’ now a world record swimmer

By ERICKA P. THOMPSON

Cullen Jones can easily be mistaken for a basketball player. At 6 feet 5 inches his long arms instantly give the impression that they’re made to snag rebounds and block shots.

That is, until you see Jones walk alongside a pool. Now his arms – and extended torso – look like they’re made to do damage in water, not on the court.

“I love every aspect of the competition,” Jones, 23, said of swimming. “I like the fact that if you do well, you are the one who gets the accolades. It’s all up to you.”

In Indianapolis last week for the USA Swimming National Championships, Jones told the Recorder he was initially into gymnastics because he had big dreams of being a hip-hop break-dancer as a kid.

“(Break dancing) was pretty big where I am from,” said the Bronx born, New Jersey bred Jones. “I had to stop because I didn’t really know what I was doing and also because I was told I was going to be big and tall.”

Though he says he still has some break-dancing skills, Jones does most of his breaking in the pool as the current world record holder in the 4X100 free style. He’s also a 2007 world champion silver medalist, a Pan Pacific Games gold medalist and the first African-American male to win a gold medal at the World University Games.

However, at the swimming championships that took place at the IUPUI Natatorium, only two-hundredths of a second kept him from defeating fellow swimmer Ben Wildman-Tobriner in the 50m freestyle, Jones’ signature event.

Jones, who began swimming at age 7, says that what he does outside the pool is just as important as what he does in it.

“I want to give back to a sport that has given so much to me,” he said. “I want to show kids that it’s OK to do something else beside playing basketball and football.”

Through his charities, the Cullen Jones Minority Scholarship Program and the Ron Jones Foundation, which is named after his father who died of lung cancer when he was 16, Jones is avid about two things: encouraging more Blacks and Hispanics to swim and teaching the necessary skills to keep the same ethnic groups from drowning.

“When I look around, I don’t see many African-Americans at this level,” said Jones who is also majoring in English at North Carolina State. “Kids can say (they want to swim) but it’s going to take a lot of people to help. It’s going to make a difference in the numbers if we make sure that (kids) know the stereotype that Blacks don’t swim isn’t true.”

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