At the Rio Olympics last month, Team USA athletes recognized the accomplishments and longevity of Michael Phelps’ remarkable career by electing the five-time Olympian to be the U.S. flag bearer at the opening ceremonies. Last week U.S. Paralympians gave the same honor to a Colorado athlete whose career goes back almost as long but includes both summer and winter Paralympics.
Eight-time Paralympian Allison Jones of Colorado Springs, who was born without a right femur, is in Rio for her fourth Summer Paralympics in cycling. She has won eight medals — four in cycling, four in skiing — including gold four years ago in the road time trial and slalom at the 2006 Torino Paralympics.
“She started competing when she was just a teenager, and it’s incredibly meaningful for all of our athletes to be represented by such an accomplished athlete, mentor, and leader,” said Ian Lawless, high performance director of the U.S. Paralympics cycling program. “She truly represents what this team and the Paralympic movement are all about.”
Jones is enjoying having her name mentioned in connection to Phelps, who was the obvious choice to carry the flag at the Rio Games, his last Olympics. Both of them are 31.
“It’s cool that parallelism is going on – it’s career-ending celebrations, but with one last hurrah,” Jones said. “It’s probably, most likely, going to be my last Games. It was cool to hear that the legacy that I’ve been creating over the last 14 years, it actually does exist, it’s not just me trying to be egotistical. It’s a super-huge honor.”
In Rio Jones is competing in the road time trial, the road race and two races at the velodrome, the 500-meter time trial and the individual pursuit.
Jones started on her path to the Paralympics at age 5 when her mother put her in the National Sports Center for the Disabled ski program at Winter Park. She began competitive cycling at age 14, made her first national ski team at age 16 and made her Paralympic debut at the 2002 Salt Lake Games.
“I was still in high school,” Jones said. “Even though I had been in Paralympic sports for a long time, I was new to the whole Paralympic movement and the idea behind this elite athletic career that was ahead of me. I knew I loved sports, and I knew I was going to be doing sports my whole life, whether at that level or not.”
In Salt Lake Jones claimed silver medals in giant slalom and super-G.
“I didn’t realize what I had started,” Jones said. “My excitement for Salt Lake City was how cool the village was, how cool it was that my whole family showed up for a race. My grandparents made it out to that race. They’ve only gone to like two ski races my entire career, and they made it to that one.”
In her debut as a summer Paralympian at the 2004 Athens Games, Jones finished fourth in the track time trial and sixth in the road time trial. Two years later she won the slalom at the Torino Games with an “absolutely in-the-moment” second run after placing third in the first run.
“I couldn’t tell you if I turned left, right or straight through the whole course,” she said of her spectacular winning run. “If they had disqualified me for missing a gate, I wouldn’t have been shocked, because I honestly don’t remember from the fourth gate until the finish line.”
At the 2008 Beijing Paralympics she claimed silver in the road time trial. In London four years later she won by almost a minute, becoming the second American woman to claim gold at the summer and winter Paralympics. “That,” she said, “was a freaking amazing ride.” Two years later, in Sochi, she amazed herself with what she calls “the unexpected medal,” bronze in downhill.
“I am not a downhiller, I am a technical, agility-based skier,” Jones said. “Somehow the ski gods looked down on me that day, the fact that I was racing the Olympic downhill course and mustered up courage. I really don’t like free-falling, and somehow I got down that course as straight as I could and ended up in third place having never even thought about a downhill medal on my tally list.”
In Rio her primary goal is defending her gold medal in the road time trial, which is scheduled for Wednesday. She also hopes to claim a medal in the road race on Friday. After Rio, she’s not sure which path she will pursue. She has a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Denver and works with Titan Robotics in Colorado Springs to develop better prosthetic limbs for disabled athletes.
“I love tinkering, I love doing that stuff,” Jones said. “I’m still going to ride a bike, whether it’s competitively for the next year or so or if it’s just riding around town. It’s part of me, it’s part of who I am and what I enjoy doing.”
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