With Cullen Jones, Anthony Ervin and Lia Neal on the London Olympic swimming squad, the United States will have more blacks wearing red, white and blue at the Summer Games in history.
Jones qualified for his second individual event in the London Games with a victory in the 50-meter freestyle. Jones, 28, was timed in 21.59, to finish one-hundredth of a second ahead of Anthony Ervin, who shared the gold medal with Gary Hall Jr. at the 2000 Olympics, retired in 2003 and resumed training last year.
Ervin, whose father is of African-American and American Indian descent, joined Jones and Lia Neal, a 17-year-old from Brooklyn,who finished fourth in the 100-meter freestyle to earn a spot on the women’s 400 freestyle relay. The United States has never had more than a single team member of African-American descent and never had any before Ervin in 2000.
“It’s amazing,” said Jones, who is the face of United States Swimming’s Make a Splash program, intended to teach children water safety. “Three swimmers with African-American roots on a U.S. Olympic team is far beyond what I could have ever imagined.”
Jones, of Irvington, N.J., has taken a fraternal interest in Neal, who has three older brothers. “We’ve spoken on several accounts,” she said. “All I can remember is what he said before the 100 free. It was really helpful.”
Neal became the second female swimmer of African-American descent to make an American Olympic team. The first was Maritza Correia, who was a member of the silver-medal-winning 400-meter freestyle relay team at the 2004 Athens Games.
“It’s a pretty big title to have,” she said, adding, “I just hope this inspires more people to join the sport.”
One of the swimmers who inspired her, she said, was Correia. Neal, who learned to swim in the first grade when she followed her friends into the pool for lessons, laughed as she spoke of becoming Correia’s Facebook friend a few years ago “and she didn’t even know me then.” After Neal made the Olympic team, she said she heard from Correia.
“It was a pretty heartfelt message,” Neal said, adding, “She said something along the lines of congratulations and enjoy every moment and just to soak it in.”
Frank Busch, the USA Swimming national team director, is clearly thrilled to see the multiracial makeup of this year’s Olympic team.
“It’s so cool,” he said. “Anytime there’s a breakthrough of any sort like this, it’s great for everything. It’s great for society. It’s great for our sport. It just shows that we’re branching out and people do get a chance no matter where they’re from — they’ll have a chance if that’s what they want.”