SE: Jones Working for Greatness Heading to Olympics
SE: Jones Working for Greatness Heading to Olympics
Akela Jones is used to being first, not just in events and meets but also in record books.
Jones, who finished her Kansas State track and field career in June, advanced as a heptathlete more rapidly than anyone before her. She broke 6,000 points in her first ever seven-event competition, which head K-State track and field coach Cliff Rovelto said was a first in the in the history of the sport.
In her second heptathlon, the 2015 NCAA Outdoor Championships, Jones secured a national title with a score of 6,371. Her day one (100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200-meter dash) total of 4,023 points erased a 30-year-old collegiate record held by Jackie Joyner-Kersee, considered one of the best female heptathletes of all time.
Jones topped her own day-one record this April with K-State at the Mt. SAC Relays in California. Included in her performance was a new school high jump record (6-04.75/1.95 meters), besting Gwen Wentland’s clearance of 6-04.00/1.93 meters in 1995.
“Some of the things that she has done have literally never been done before,” Rovelto said. “No one in the history of the world has scored 6,300-plus in their second heptathlon.”
Jones won six NAIA outdoor titles at Oklahoma Baptist before transferring to K-State, where her natural gifts have been complimented by the coaching experience of Rovelto and his wife Karol.
“It has been a really rapid journey. I’ve put in a lot of hard work. Coach said to enjoy the journey and enjoy the process of wanting to be good, and I think when that happens, tremendous improvements can be made in a short amount of time,” Jones said. “That’s what, basically, I’ve been doing — enjoying the process of going to training, having fun and laughing and doing what I have to do. I don’t have any limits anymore because I enjoy the journey.”
The journey for Jones started out in Barbados — a small island in the Caribbean with a population of less than 300,000 people. It is where K-State assistant coach Vincent Johnson started recruiting Jones and quickly sold the future star on ending up in Manhattan.
“He recruited me and I said, ‘This school is going to be the school that’s going to make me reach my goals,’” said Jones, who has fully enjoyed her stay at K-State. “Now, I can just open up my eyes. I like to be in a different country and I like it here in Manhattan. You can train, go to school and you have a very good coaching staff. Here in Manhattan, it’s like you get all of the good life.”
When Jones returns home, she receives somewhat of a celebrity treatment. What the 6-foot-2 Wildcat doesn’t get is resentment for leaving to train in the United States.
“About 99 percent of the people in my country understand that I had to take this leap in order to do better for them,” she said. “I’m improving, and the more I do here in America, the more I do at K-State, the better it is for my country and the more my country gets a name on the map of this Earth.”
Jones began to help increase her country’s recognition in 2014 when she became the first Barbados athlete to win a medal at the World Junior Championships, claiming first in the long jump. She will become the first Barbadian heptathlete to compete in the Olympics this August in Rio de Janeiro, where she will also high jump individually.
In her crosshairs is another first, however. Jones, whose top score of 6,307 points this year ranks eighth in the world, seeks to deliver her home country its first female Olympic medal and only its second individual medal ever.
“My thoughts are always about getting the gold, getting a personal best and being the first woman in my country to actually win a medal,” Jones said. “This is a big stage for my country. When I go out there, and if I win this gold medal, this is a really big accomplishment for my family, for my former schools, for this school and for my country. It’s going to be amazing.”
The only factors to slow down Jones so far have been injuries and inexperience. Rovelto said if Jones, who injured her ankle at the Big 12 Outdoor Championships before finishing third at this year’s NCAA Championships, competes at full health in Rio, medaling would be well within reach.
“If she could have a personal best at the Games, I don’t think there’s any athlete living that would view that as anything less than a successful effort. The reality is if she does have a personal best at the Olympic Games in the heptathlon, then she’ll be in medal contention,” Rovelto said. “If you look historically at the Games, if you score anywhere over 6,400 points, you’ve got a pretty good chance of medaling, and that’s definitely in her wheelhouse.”
The difference between Jones and other heptathletes, Rovelto added, is her natural abilities surpass anyone he’s ever worked with. It’s why he is not reserved about detailing her potential.
“There is nobody better than Akela Jones from a physical standpoint. There just isn’t. There’s no one in the world better than her,” he said. “She is the best in the world, but she’s got to do the work, get the experience and go out and prove it. So there’s a lot of things that have to happen for everyone to accept that she’s the best in the world, but I know physically that she’s the best in the world.”
When Jones hears words of that magnitude from her coach, she knows from her experience in training with him that he means it.
“I think that he knows that he’s done his work, so the only work left is for me execute now,” Jones said. “When I go out there, I just try to listen to him. He really is a very simple person and it’s all down to the basics, so whatever her says, you just have to believe it and believe that you can do what he said to work for greatness.”
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