Gold Medalist Cullen Jones On Chasing History

Cullen Jones

hide captionCullen Jones shows poses with the gold medal during the award ceremony for the men's 4x100-meter freestyle relay.

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Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones, Jason Lezak

hide caption(From left) Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones and Jason Lezak set a world record in the 400-meter freestyle relay.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Swimmer Cullen Jones is still relishing his first-place finish at the Olympic Games in Beijing.

"I am on cloud nine since I've gotten the gold," he told NPR's Farai Chideya.

Jones helped the U.S. Olympic men's freestyle swimming team secure a nail-biting victory on Monday, in what has been hailed as one of the most exciting races in the games' history.

He and teammates Michael Phelps, Jason Lezak and Garrett Weber-Gale set a world record in the 400-meter freestyle relay.

Jones, 24, made history in another way: He became the second African-American swimmer to win a gold medal, following Anthony Ervin in 2000.

"I was shaking behind the blocks," he said, describing his restlessness before the race. "I was so nervous. It was my first Olympics, and I wanted to really perform well because I had three other guys that were depending on me to swim fast. But all the preparation, all the training that I've done prepared me for it."

Those years of training came after Jones, at the age of 5, nearly drowned at a water amusement park.

"I ended up passing out," he said. "I had CPR done, and I came back, and I was like, 'What's next?' It didn't even faze me."

But the incident underscores a grim statistic: Nearly 60 percent of African-American children can't swim, and black children drown at a rate almost three times the overall rate, according to a study commissioned by USA Swimming.

"I was devastated to see that blacks and Hispanics are almost three times more likely to drown than their counterparts," said Jones. "To think back to my story when I was 5, I could have easily been added to the number."

It's a cause Jones is now championing, increasing awareness about water safety and drawing new faces to the pool.

"It's kind of ironic that now I'm a gold medalist, and I'm in a position to help diversity in the sport."

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