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Who is Cullen Jones? Jones is an African American swimmer who, as a member of the U.S. Olympic team, holds the world record in the 4x100m freestyle relay. Cullen helped set that record—3:12.46—at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he became only the second black American swimmer to win a gold medal. At the 2012 London Olympics, Jones will compete in three events: the 50m freestyle, the 100m freestyle, and the 4x100m freestyle relay. As the third African American swimmer to ever make the U.S. Olympic team, he follows in the footsteps of Anthony Ervin and Maritza Correia.

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Cullen Jones was born in the Bronx borough of New York City. He moved with his family to Irvington, N.J., as a boy, and at the age of 5, he nearly drowned at a water park in Pennsylvania. After the near-death experience, his mother enrolled him in swimming lessons, and despite being a black competitor in a traditionally white sport, he excelled in the pool. He won a scholarship to North Carolina State University, where he was a four-time ACC champion and an NCAA national champion in 2006. That same year, he went pro and swam the 50m freestyle in 21.84 seconds at the Pan Pacific Championships, setting a meet record. In the trials for the 2008 Olympics, he set an American record in the 50m freestyle, but it was broken the following day by fellow swimmer Garrett Weber-Gale. Luckily, Cullen qualified for the 4x100m relay team, and in Beijing, he swam the third leg of the dramatic come-from-behind race. In July 2009, he once again set an American record in the 50m, and his time of 21.40 still stands as the best in U.S. history.

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Jones has a sponsorship deal with Nike, and he promotes teaching swimming to minority children through the U.S. team’s Make a Splash foundation. He’s become something of a celebrity, and since winning his gold medal, he’s appeared on “Oprah” and even had dinner with Michael Jordan. He has some 17,000 Twitter followers, and he regularly travels the country for speaking engagements. “It’s a dream come true, but definitely surreal,” Jones told the Lake Norman Citizen.

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