Sprinters Jones, Lezak return to Olympics
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Cullen Jones is going to a second straight Olympics after an up-and-down couple of years.
Jason Lezak is headed to London, too, as a 36-year-old father of two.
They were part of a loaded field of Olympic medalists in the 100-meter freestyle final on Friday night at the U.S. swimming trials.
Nathan Adrian went in as the favorite and won in 48.10 seconds, fourth-fastest in the world this year. The sprinter who trains at California led at the turn and never let up.
The race was on for the second individual spot.
Jones went out strong and hung on from the far outside lane to touch in 48.46, giving the first African-American ever to win an Olympic swimming gold medal a shot at adding to his collection.
"It means a lot,'' he said. "I had some definite doubts the last couple years.''
Now 28, Jones swam on the winning 400 freestyle relay in Beijing that set a world record. The victory raised his profile and he parlayed his credibility into a major role with USA Swimming's Make a Splash campaign that encourages minorities to learn to swim.
"Although a lot of my work is positive in talking to kids, I wanted to live, I wanted to enjoy what I had gotten in 2008,'' he said.
So he made the rounds of the celebrity circuit. A fashion fiend outside of the pool, Jones posed for magazine spreads, attended parties and enjoyed the spoils that come from winning a gold medal.
That led to some quiet years since Beijing, with Jones not making the team for last year's world championships in Shanghai and then missing the championship final of the 50 free at U.S. nationals.
"I refocused this past year,'' he said. "A lot of the coaches from the national team who were in Shanghai said to me, `We need you for this relay, we need one of the best 100 freestylers in the U.S. to be ready come London because the world is getting faster,' and I'm happy I could answer that call.''
Lezak answered the bell from the opposite side of the pool as Jones. Stuck out in lane eight, the Olympic relay star from Beijing finished sixth in 48.88, grabbing the last spot to be included in the relay mix.
"This 36-year-old body was rundown and somehow I closed my eyes for a little bit,'' he said. "I'm breathing to my right-hand side, there is nobody there, and I actually kind of visualized some things from the past to help me get to the wall.''
Lezak was lucky to be in the final at all, qualifying ninth-fastest in the semifinals but getting in when Ryan Lochte scratched.
"I was nervous,'' he said. "It was a big race for me, trained four years for this, real hard. Nobody understands how hard it's been for me except my wife and I. It's a pretty good accomplishment to get in there.''
Lezak and his wife, Danielle, have had two sons since 2008, when he saved Michael Phelps' bid for eight gold medals in Beijing with a stunning last leg of the 400 free relay to overtake French star Alain Bernard.
"He's somebody definitely good to have on the team,'' Phelps said. "We are going to have to do a lot of work for that relay. This is some kind of start. Having the experience that Jason has, hopefully he can help some of the younger guys get up.''
Lezak has come full circle, making his last Olympic team on a relay, just like he made his first in 2000. In between, he swam in individual events and owns a total of seven Olympic medals, including four golds.
"It's a great feeling because I've learned a lot, and hopefully I can be a team leader and help these guys swim fast,'' he said.
Also earning spots in the relay pool were Matt Grevers (third), Ricky Berens (fourth), and Jimmy Feigen (fifth).
Garrett Weber-Gale, a 2008 Olympian, finished last.