Eye On Rio 2016: Erin Jones Chases Olympic Dream
Oct. 10, 2012
CORVALLIS, Ore. - Either a 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike ride or 10-kilometer run on its own would provide a daunting task to even the most well-conditioned individuals. But combine all three in rapid succession, back-to-back-to-back, and one would find that only a select few could finish the task, let alone complete such a combination in a little over two hours.
Part of the latter group is former Oregon State track and field standout Erin Jones, who is currently at the Elite Triathlon Academy in Colorado Springs, training diligently with the ultimate goal being a spot on the United States roster at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Hood River, Ore. native made the difficult decision to chase her dreams after three years of donning an orange and black singlet.
"I was coming to the end of my Oregon State running career and I felt like this could be an opportunity that would last more into the future," Jones said. "It was hard leaving my teammates because I was going into my senior year and could have been a captain, a team leader. But they're all so excited for me and they're all on board so I'm glad to have that support."
A three-sport standout at Hood River High School, Jones excelled in cross country, track and swimming. She was a four-time state qualifier in cross country, finishing as high as sixth individually; a two-time state qualifier in track, finishing eighth in the 1,500 and seventh and 3,000; and a three-time state qualifier in swimming, finishing fourth in the 500 freestyle and fifth in the 200 freestyle.
In between all that success, Jones found the time to compete in triathlons, finishing 10th at Junior Nationals in 2008 and sixth in 2009 - both without dedicating herself full-time to the sport.
"I have a background in swimming and I also ran in high school, and it was around that time I got involved with triathlons because my old coach (Kristen Uhler) was a former triathlete," Jones said of how she started in the grueling sport. "During the summer I would always do them as a hobby. My dad wanted me to go out and do Junior Nationals for USA Triathlon and I placed pretty high for not training."
With those early eye-opening performances came an understanding of how good she truly could be. While at Oregon State, Jones saw a piece in Triathlete Magazine announcing the beginning of a new program called the Elite Triathlon Academy (ETA). She emailed the director and communicated her swim and run times, her finishes in the difficult multi-stage events and explained that she hadn't really trained for the bike. Not long thereafter, Jones was invited out to Colorado and hasn't looked back.
"It's a phenomenal opportunity," Oregon State head coach Kelly Sullivan said. "She competed in triathlons in high school and I also allowed her to do one at the end of her second year here at OSU that she trained for all summer and did really, really well. When all that data for this new program came out her name undoubtedly popped up. She was a little nervous going out there because she wasn't sure what it was going to entail. It was very much a selective process."
Jones made the grade and is now one of only nine members in the fledgling program that was "created to help the world's best triathletes gain the resources needed to reach their goals of the Olympic Games."
ETA is located in Colorado Springs, Colo., specifically at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) where all athletes attend classes while enrolled in the academy. It is partnered with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), which awards all athletes the advantage of training at the Olympic Training Center (OTC).
Jones has only been in Colorado for four months, but has already proven she made the right decision. After days that often begin with 6:30 a.m. swims, followed by breakfast, class, training and dinner that lasts until 8 p.m., she's posted two top-10 finishes in events of the last two weeks. She had raced as an amateur until she finished in 2:07.12 at the HerbaLife LA Triathlon on Sept. 30 to earn her pro card and last Saturday at the Lifetime Fitness US Open Triathlon in Dallas she backed that up with a ninth-place performance.
"Erin and I are pretty close," Sullivan said of his former pupil. "When she made this decision I was thrilled for her, but I was reluctant in a sense because I wanted it to be exactly how it's turning out for her. She means a lot to us."
"I love that I decided to come out here," Jones said. "I love this program. It was a really big opportunity and the longer I've been out here the more I love it. I felt like with running I had kind of reached my peak, but this is a whole new thing that I hadn't even trained for that I felt like I could have success at."
The United States usually takes between two and three triathletes to the Olympics in any given year, depending on how Americans fare in qualifying races leading up to the Games, but with such performances early on in her professional career, Jones is making her case that an Olympic berth is well within her grasp.
Her impact on this season's Oregon State cross country and track squads cannot be understated. She was one of the team's top returnees and would almost assuredly have been voted a team captain in addition to being actively involved in SAAC. But her journey is one that makes her former coaches and teammates immensely proud.
"It's rare to have anybody at any program at any level to be able to move on to a professional career in the sport," Sullivan said. "But you wanted this to happen for her. The easy decision would have been to stay, but the risky decision is exactly what she's done and I wouldn't have expected anything less from her. To see her come in here as a freshman, watch her grow as she was here and then to see her move on to this next level is awesome. You want these things to evolve out of your program - that's why you do it."
"I need to thank Kelly for all the support he's given me throughout the years," Jones said. "And my team back at Oregon State. They're like family."
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