Cullen Jones just had an exciting night in Beijing (which translates into an exciting morning in Charlotte). The former N.C. State standout and current Charlotte resident swam the fastest leg in the preliminaries on a U.S. 4x100 team that set a world record in the event.
By swimming a sizzling 47.61 in his 100 meters, Jones made a strong case to swim in the 4x100 final in about 14 hours. He was ecstatic after the race and admitted he would be "kind of devastated" if he didn't make it to the final after that performance. And it indeed looks like Jones will be on the final relay now -- his coach David Marsh just e-mailed me to tell me that Cullen had been told he was in the final and would probably swim the third leg.
Officially, though, U.S. coach Eddie Reese has until about an hour before the race to turn in the four swimmers who will swim the final. Michael Phelps is a given -- he didn't have to swim the prelims since he has such a heavy load already. This race will be one of the biggest challenges for Phelps and his quest for eight gold medals.
The rest of the squad who set the world record in the prelim were Nathan Adrian, Ben Wildman-Tobriner and Matt Grevers. Jones may be the only one of the four to advance to the final, or one more might be brought in as well.
"The four of us set out to do something a lot of people didn't think we could do," Jones said. "We weren't afraid to feel the pain."
In the 4x100 final Sunday night (that's Eastern time -- it'll be Monday morning in Beijing), the U.S. is far from a given for the gold. France, Australia and Italy will all be strong competitors. The 4x100 is scheduled for 11:23 p.m. Sunday night (Eastern time) after Charlotte's Mark Gangloff swims in the final of the 100 breaststroke at 10:30 p.m. If NBC doesn't televise it live, some network executive heads should be rolling.