Jones back in the Games after ‘best meet’ of life

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comJuly 2, 2012 

APTOPIX US Swim Trials

Cullen Jones reacts after winning the men's 50-meter freestyle final at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Sunday, July 1, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. At left is Matt Grevers. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

MARK J. TERRILL — AP

  • U.S. Olympic Swim Trials When: Meet ends Monday night in Omaha, Neb. Up next: The final day of the swim trials features only two distances – the shortest and the longest. The women’s 50 freestyle will decide the final two spots on the women’s team and be decided in around 25 seconds. The men’s 1,500 – which will feature about 15 minutes of continuous swimming – will cap the meet. That will be followed by the official introduction of a U.S. Olympic team that will include at least a half-dozen swimmers with North Carolina connections. TV: Live on NBC, 8-8:30 p.m.

— Cullen Jones wrapped up what he called “definitely the best meet of my life” by becoming the fastest swimmer in America once again Sunday night.

Jones, the former N.C. State star and Charlotte resident since 2008, won swimming’s “splash and dash race” – the men’s 50 freestyle – in 21.59 seconds at the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials. The winning margin was about the length of your thumbnail, as Jones edged Anthony Ervin (21.60) by 1/100th of a second.

“I’ve been dreaming of this forever, of qualifying for two individual events in the Olympics,” Jones said in response to a reporter’s question. “The only thing different is that, in my dream, I’m giving better answers.”

In reality, Jones had every answer in this meet. Entered in two events, he made the 2012 Olympic team in both.

Earlier in the meet, Jones qualified both individually for the men’s 100 freestyle and also for the 4x100 relay by finishing in second place in that race. So he will be the busiest of the six swimmers with North Carolina connections on the U.S. Olympic team, swimming three events in London (after only swimming one, a relay, in 2008).

“The plan now,” Jones said, “is not to let the U.S. down.”

Josh Schneider, Jones’ teammate at SwimMAC Carolina, finished fourth in the 50 freestyle and did not qualify for the Olympics, despite swimming a personal best of 21.78 seconds.

Pre-race favorite Nathan Adrian finished third and surprisingly did not qualify in the 50. Jones had said before the race that while many seemed to consider Adrian unbeatable, “I’m going after him.”

Adrian was a graceful loser, giving Jones a playful splash and a hug after the race. Adrian had already made the team in the 100 and the two will be relay teammates in London.

Jones already holds the American record in the 50 at 21.40 seconds, but that was swum in a high-tech bodysuit in 2009 before such suits were outlawed. “I haven’t gone this fast in three years,” said Jones, whose time was second-fastest in the world this year behind Brazil’s Cesar Cielo Filho, the world-record holder. “So I’m really happy.”

In the men’s 100 butterfly, Michael Phelps won as expected to qualify for his fifth individual event in London. Phelps could swim up to eight events in these Games. In the 2008 Olympics he did the same thing, winning eight gold medals in eight tries.

But the three SwimMAC finalists couldn’t grab the second place necessary for an Olympic spot. Davis Tarwater finished fifth, Tim Phillips sixth and Eugene Godsoe seventh. Tyler McGill was second.

Immediately after the meet, the 28-year-old Tarwater – who has a postgraduate degree from Oxford University – retired.

“This was my last swim,” said the versatile Tarwater, who made three finals in the meet but couldn’t eke out an Olympic berth. “It’s been a blessing to swim for a great club like SwimMAC and now it’s on to the next thing for me.”

Godsoe, 24 and one of the best swimmers to ever come out of Greensboro, said he was unsure whether he would continue swimming full-time.

In the women’s 50 freestyle semifinals, both Madison Kennedy – who has purple hair hidden under her swim cap – and Kara Lynn Joyce advanced to Monday night’s final. Kennedy qualified fourth and Joyce was fifth in the semifinals.

The third-place qualifier was 45-year-old Dara Torres, who will be the crowd favorite Monday night. The fastest qualifier was Jessica Hardy.

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