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Swim meet makes divesity splash
Olympic medalist Jones launches Charlotte meet
Published Thursday, October 10, 2013 12:03 pm
by Herbert L. White

Cullen Jones sees potential in the diversity of swimming.

Queen City Dolphins coach Rodney Sellars (left) responds to a question during a press conference announcing the Cullen Jones Diversity Invitational swim meet in Charlotte. On the right is Cullen Jones, a four-time Olympic medalist and founder of the meet, which is expected to draw 500 swimmers to Mecklenburg Aquatic Center.

Jones, a four-time Olympic medalist, is launching the inaugural Cullen Jones Diversity Invitational Oct. 11-13 at the Mecklenburg Aquatic Center.  Organizers expect 500 competitors from across the southeast.

“This is something my team and I have been talking about for a couple of years now, and we made it come to fruition,” said Jones, the first African American man to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming (2008, 2012). “We’re really excited about it.”

Nearly 270 swimmers from Mecklenburg County are expected to compete in the USA Swimming-sanctioned meet, including 42 from the co-host Queen City Dolphins, a program made up primarily of African American athletes and coaches.

“This is our footprint,” Dolphins founder and head coach Rodney Sellars said. “We’re going to make this meet grow and there are kids all over the country who don’t realize swimming is one of the only sports where your amateur status will put you in the pool next to an Olympian if you’re at the right swim meet.”
At least one Olympian – Jones – will compete in the invitational, which starts Oct. 11 at 5 p.m. The Oct. 12 session is from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and the Oct. 13 session is 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. 

Races will be contested using the aquatic center’s short course layout of 25 yards. Swimmers ages 8-18 will compete in a maximum of four individual races per day plus relays.  The top eight finishers will score points based on their results.

“We have 500 kids coming, but we’re going to grow from that,” said Jones, a New Jersey native who trains in Charlotte. “With my name on it, we definitely wanted to try it with a smaller group where we definitely have more of an impact on these kids.”

In addition to the meet, organizers are sponsoring parties for participants and coaches, a seminar on diversity in swimming and Jones’ mother, Debra, will talk to parents about the family’s role in the sport.

“I definitely want to see more diversity in swimming, especially in the higher ranks,” Cullen Jones said. “That’s something this meet is really about and trying to explain and educate parents and kids about that next step, whether it’s going to high school or going to college or professional.”

After nearly drowning as a 5-year-old, Jones has advocated water safety training for children. He’s been involved in USA Swimming Foundation’s “Make A Splash” initiative and as the face of Speedo’s “Learn to Swim” program.  The Diversity Invitational, however, is focused on competition.

“This is a swim meet, this is a competitive meet and this is another branch I’m trying to extend my web to all branches of swimming,” said Jones, who plans compete at the invitational. …“My dream for this meet is that in three years is we’re swimming long course and kids of all colors, creeds and nations are here to swim in this meet and trying to make Olympic trials.”


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