OMAHA, Neb. Cullen Jones would be the first to tell you hes not the best practice swimmer.
But like so many of the best athletes, Jones reaches his peak under the brightest lights. The former N.C. State star and current Charlotte resident did so again Friday night, making his second straight Olympic team by finishing second in the mens 100 freestyle at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
That means all sorts of things for Jones. Given another Olympic platform, he can reach hundreds of thousands more people with his learn-to-swim initiative that targets African-American kids. He can also get the word London tattooed on his right bicep to join the word Beijing, where he won his relay gold medal in 2008.
And this time Jones can swim an individual event in London by virtue of his top-two finish Friday. He will be joined on the 100-meter relay team by Charlotte native Ricky Berens, who finished fourth in the race and will now swim two events in London both the 100 and 200 freestyle relays.
Jones coach, SwimMACs David Marsh, came up to him after the race and said one word: Perfect.
You dont get that out of David too often, said Jones, who was beaten only by race favorite Nathan Adrian.
Charlottes Scot Robison missed making the team in the same event by an eyelash. He finished seventh in an event where the top six qualify, missing sixth place by 0.04 seconds.
Its heartbreaking, said Berens, who has known Robison since they were around 10 years old and swimming against each other in Charlotte. I wanted Scot to be able to get the Olympic experience, too.
Jones joined four other North Carolina Olympians who have already made the 2012 U.S. swim team Berens, Raleigh native Charlie Houchin, SwimMAC teammate Nick Thoman and Greenvilles Lauren Perdue.
Perdue, a standout swimmer at Greenville Rose and now a rising senior at Virginia, qualified in the 200 womens freestyle Thursday night by finishing in fourth place to secure a spot in that relay. She was pleasantly shocked, given that she had back surgery in March and was only seeded 18th.
This was completely unexpected, Perdue said Friday. It still feels surreal.
That was exactly the sort of feeling that Jones wanted and he got it. And he still has the 50 freestyle to swim.
This takes all the pressure off, Jones said. And as fast as I swam tonight, I think I might have scared a couple of people.
• SwimMACs Kara Lynn Joyce, a two-time Olympian, did not advance out of the preliminaries into the semifinals of the womens 100 freestyle. The top 16 advance and Joyce finished 18th. She will begin her strongest event the 50 free Sunday morning along with teammate Madison Kennedy.
SwimMACs Kennedy made it to the finals of the 100 free, qualifying sixth with a personal best of 54.45 seconds. She could make the Olympic team Saturday with another top-six finish. That event will also be 11-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlins final chance to make the 2012 team.
• SwimMACs Micah Lawrence is in strong position for an Olympic spot in the 200 womens breaststroke Saturday. She needs a top-two finish and had the second-best time in the semifinals.
• SwimMACs Elliott Keefer finished fifth in the mens 200 breaststroke final. Scott Weltz was first and Clark Burckle was second to qualify.
• Cammile Adams and Kathleen Hersey went 1-2 to qualify in the womens 200 butterfly.
• Thoman could make the team in a second event Saturday he qualified sixth for the 200 backstroke final.
• Watch for my column on Perdue the unlikeliest of the North Carolina swim Olympians so far in Sundays newspaper.