After participating in one of the greatest swimming races in history, Cullen Jones hopes he has only begun to make an unforgettable impact.
Jones, who once starred as a college swimmer at North Carolina State and now lives in Charlotte, helped set a world record for the United States. in the 4x100 relay Sunday night (EDT). On Monday, with a gold medal gleaming from his neck, he talked about his ideas for using that medal and that extraordinary race as a springboard.
"I've got big plans," Jones said.
Jones, 24, has the sort of big dreams that you want an Olympian to have - something more than endorsements or TV appearances. He imagines swim meets, clinics and speeches to youth groups, all under the umbrella of what he would like to call "The Cullen Jones Diversity Tour." Bank of America gave Jones $10,000 of seed money for it Monday.
Jones is already heavily involved with an organization called "Make a Splash," a national child-focused water safety initiative created by the USA Swimming Foundation (MakeaSplash.org). Jones is mostly concerned not that minority children learn to swim fast, but that they learn to swim, period. A recent study sponsored by USA Swimming showed that 58 percent of black children could not swim, compared to 31 percent of whites.
"Let's say two kids are walking beside a pool and one decides it would be funny to push the other one in," Jones said. "If the one who gets pushed in can swim, yeah, maybe it's funny. If he can't? You've got a real problem."
Bright and beaming with personality, Jones has the gregarious nature cameras love. Although he's one of the best dressers on the U.S. Olympic swim team, he cracked up his Olympic teammates at a training-camp talent show with a dead-on portrayal of TV nerd Steve Urkel.
Since meeting Jones for the first time four months ago, just after he moved to Charlotte, I knew he would be able to command part of the spotlight at the Olympics if he only had the opportunity. Now he does, as the second black U.S. swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal (Anthony Ervin was the first, in 2000).
Jones draws people. When you meet his mother, Debra Jones, you can understand why. She and her late husband spent years ferrying their only child to swim practices.
"It's worth putting the time into your child's passion," Jones said Monday, flashing a smile almost identical to her son's. "Sometimes they don't fit the mold you imagine. Not all kids are going to grow up and be doctors."
Well I'm proud of the brother. Woo Hoo! That 58% number is appalling and anything that can be done to alleviate it, I'm a fan of, so Im hoping Cullen keeps it up and can aspire more little Black kids to get out there and swim competitively.