Every second counts on way to 2016 for Warrnambool swimmer

ISAAC Jones has watched the movies about American college sports.

The ones which highlight its enormity and where the pressure, interest and one-eyed supporters are amplified on the big screen.

Most of the time those films feature football and basketball teams, often fighting through adversity to leave a lasting mark.

The Warrnambool teenager will realise a long-held dream when he flies to the United States on Tuesday to take up a sporting scholarship at University of Kentucky.

But it’s not basketball — the National Collegiate Athletic Association division one school’s main sport — where he is hoping to leave his own indelible mark.

Jones, 19, will join the Lexington-based college’s 50-strong swimming team under the tutelage of former Olympian Lars Jorgensen. 

Naturally he’s a little apprehensive about packing his bags to move halfway around the world but the excitement of a new challenge outweighs any minor fears.

Home-town support: Isaac Jones, 19, is leaving the familiar waters of Warrnambool’s AquaZone pools to take up a swimming scholarship at the University of Kentucky. 140727RG02 Picture: ROB GUNSTONE

Home-town support: Isaac Jones, 19, is leaving the familiar waters of Warrnambool’s AquaZone pools to take up a swimming scholarship at the University of Kentucky. 140727RG02 Picture: ROB GUNSTONE

“It was something I always wanted to do,” Jones said.

“You obviously can’t stay in Warrnambool the whole time and I was watching movies and stuff, the sports movies, and I just looked in to it.

“I sent my details to a guy in Melbourne who helps athletes and then he sent my times and a few (of my) races to a few coaches and they got interested.

“We started talking on Skype and it went from there. It is just so easy. You get a scholarship and you get free education, meals and top-notch quality training every day with the team.”

College is the first major destination on a career trajectory Jones hopes is pointing up.

The Australian titles in April next year loom as an opportunity for him to put all he has learnt, from his junior days in Warrnambool to his first college season, into action.

Beyond that, the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games remains a long-term goal.

He knows he needs to shed seconds off his two pet events — the 200m butterfly and 200m freestyle — to earn an Olympic debut.

“(My personal best is) 1.58 seconds for the 200m butterfly and I’d have to get 1.56 and then for 200m freestyle I am 1.48 and I probably need to go 1.47,” Jones said.

But his belief is high.

Jones took confidence out of his performances at this year’s Australian titles in Brisbane, where he qualified third fastest for the 200m butterfly final.

“All the other years I’ve been improving and getting higher up but it still sort of seemed like that little bit further away but this little jump made it look that more attainable,” he said of a dream Olympic call-up.

“I will just see where it goes from there.

“At the moment if I was looking at (Rio) it would be the 200m butterfly individually and I’d have to finish top two (at trials) in 2016. Or probably even another chance is the 200m freestyle because they have the relay and they take six for a relay spot.”

He hopes his move to the United States will help him cut his times further.

Jones is no stranger to overseas competition — the 4x200m team freestyle relay silver medal he collected at the FINA Junior World Championships in Dubai last August is testament to that — but he has spent his entire career under one coach.

Warrnambool’s Jayson Lamb started mentoring Jones from the age of eight and has coached the prodigious talent ever since.

Six days a week for more than 10 years the pair have worked alongside each other, morning and night.

Jones will now swim for Jorgensen, who competed at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. 

“He went to the Olympics for America and he swum the 1500m there,” Jones said.

“This will be his second year at the program. He was at a division two school and he built them up from the bottom to winning national championships and then he got the job here and he pushed pretty hard to get me to come and we got along pretty well.

“There are a few weekends each year where you’ve got to compete. Then they have their end of year national college tournament at the end of March and then I could come home after that and do the Australian titles which are here in April.

“There are cons — they only do shortcourse and the trials are longcourse for Australia — but then again you’re getting all the skills and race fit all the time and the experience.”

Jones will spend a similar number of hours in the pool at his new base as he did in Warrnambool.

He will train each weeknight and three mornings a week at Kentucky, fitting teaching studies in between.

It’s one less morning session than he does here.

Jones was born and bred in Warrnambool. He went to Our Lady Help of Christians Primary School before completing his VCE at Emmanuel College last year.

The unassuming teenager is a recognisable face in the south-west, for both his pool feats and ocean swimming prowess.

At AquaZone, he is king of the kids. The Warrnambool Swimming Club’s growing popularity could partly be attributed to Jones’ successes.

“It is a nice feeling but they don’t realise that they can do it,” he said.

“I think they just think ‘he’s just a freak’ but a lot of them can do it and they just need to commit themselves and they just need to realise that.” 

The pool itself has been “like a second home”.

“When I was doing school last year I was probably seeing them more than my own family,” he said of his Warrnambool teammates. 

“You’d get up in the morning, you’d go to swimming, you spend over two hours there, you go to school with some of them and then you come back and train in the afternoon, another two hours with them.

“Then you go home and see your family for a little bit, then you study and go to bed.”

Jones started the sport when he was eight because he wanted to join nippers and needed to learn how to swim. 

He started competition soon after and realised he had a passion for it.

The dedication of picking and choosing when to attend parties and other social events, strict diets and heavy training loads had him question his commitment briefly.

“You go through your teenage (years) and you go up and down and sometimes you lose your love for it, but I think it’s always the racing that’s kept me going because you do get sick of the mornings and training,” Jones said.

“Probably when I was 14 (I questioned it) and you start to get beaten by people you don’t think you’ll get beaten by.

“As I said, kids have growth spurts and they go past you. I had one and you go all un-co and you have to build your strength up.

“Fourteen was probably my hardest year. I think my first nationals I got two medals and then I went the year after that and only made one final.

“After that it just got better every year.”

Jones — the youngest of three brothers — credits his dad Paul as one of his biggest influences.

“He’s probably been the biggest guide but he couldn’t swim, so I’ve been told from his mates,” he joked.

“Dad’s been really good. He used to do running and triathlons.

“He went all right but he had that background in sport so he knew about management.”

Paul and his wife Clare will fly to the United States with their youngest son today and spend two weeks with him at his new home.

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