Cullen Jones, last link to magic relay, wonders whether to swim on

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NEW YORK — Cullen Jones swam at one meet in the last year and none since April. Is the four-time Olympic medalist retired?

“I haven’t made a decision,” Jones said Monday at the Golden Goggle Awards, where he interviewed athletes for USA Swimming. “I know what I have to do to make the team, to give it another go. I feel great. It’s just whether I want to put in that effort again.”

At 34, Jones is older than all but one person who swam at the U.S. Championships in June. Anthony Ervin, 37, won the 50m freestyle at the 2000 and 2016 Olympics and wants to compete through 2020.

Jones is best known for being part of the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay team that stunned France for gold in Beijing, behind Jason Lezak‘s anchor leg, and for earning 50m freestyle silver at London 2012. Jones is the only man from that 2008 relay who hasn’t retired.

He hasn’t made an Olympic or world championships team since the London Games, missing by one spot in the 50m freestyle for the 2015 Worlds, 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds. Jones, who nearly drowned after an amusement park water slide ride at age 5, is putting more effort into starting a swim school in North Carolina.

He turns 36 in 2020 and will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic male swimmer in an individual event since 1904. In Jones’ favor is his specialty, the sprint freestyles, which can favor experience.

There is Ervin, who in Rio became the oldest Olympic swimming gold medalist. Lezak snuck onto the 2012 Olympic team at age 36 as the last member of the 4x100m free relay (swimming just the preliminary heat). Dara Torres memorably came out of a second retirement to earn three silver medals, including in the 50m free, at age 41 at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Jones has time. Since the 2019 World Championships team was decided this summer, there is no major international meet for him to target until the Olympics.

“If I get the swim school up, and I feel content, I have time to make the decision to get ready again,” he said. “It usually only takes me about seven to eight months to be where I need to be. I know I’m a little older, so maybe I’ll give it nine. I’ll come to that decision when I need to.

“My finger is on the button.”

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