Tyronne Jones remembers the moment well. His youngest daughter, Tia, had just lost a race. It was her first season running age-group track. “She came in the tent,” he says, “threw her spikes down, and she was like, ‘I’m tired of losing!’ I want to train with you and Tyree [her footballer brother].’
“‘If I train, will I get faster?’ she added.
“Eventually you would, but it doesn’t happen so fast,” said her father, who knew plenty about training from his football days—he was SWAC player of the year at Grambling and did 10 seasons as a wide receiver in the Arena Football League.
Tia soon enough got a lot faster, taking down the 100 hurdles High School Record as a frosh two seasons ago. Now a junior hurdling star at Walton High in Marietta, Georgia, she was only 8 when she threw her spikes down. She didn’t wait around for the training to kick in. That summer she won a Junior Olympic national title in the 200, running 29.27.
Jones fell in love with the hurdles by watching one of her hometown heroes, Kendell Williams—later a 5-time NCAA multis champion for Georgia—practice over the barriers.
“I always was like, ‘Dad, I want to try hurdles, I want to try hurdles!’ ” Finally her father and the club coach relented and said, “Come on over here and try it out.”
“So I literally jumped in and he was like, ‘Well, your technique’s not bad. Looks like you might be a natural.’ From there on, I just loved it.”
She didn’t solely focus on the hurdles, though. Dad made sure daughter tried everything. She even won JO regional titles in the multis—and her PRs for the heptathlon events add up to a solid 4925.
She had one of the most spectacular 8th-grade seasons ever, hurdling 13.45/13.08w, winning New Balance and earning No. 2 in our All-America rankings, putting her on course to become the event’s only 5-time scorer.
Then she stunned observers in the prelims at the ’16 U.S. Juniors, whacking 0.30 off her PR with a national record 12.84. Later that summer she confirmed the time was no fluke when she won bronze at the World Juniors in the No. 2 prep time ever, 12.89. And she earned a second No. 2 in the All-Am department.
Impressive enough, but remember, she was only a 9th-grader at the time.
|All-Time HS Girls 100 Hurdles Top 10|
|12.84||***Tia Jones (Walton, Marietta, Georgia)||2016|
|12.92||Dior Hall (Washington, Denver, Colorado)||2014|
|12.93||Alexis Duncan (DeSoto, Texas)||2016|
|12.95||*Candy Young (Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania)||1979|
|*Chanel Brissett (Cheltenham, Wyncote, Pennsylvania)||2016|
|Tara Davis (Agoura, Agoura Hills, California)||2017|
|13.03||*Vashti Thomas (Mt. Pleasant, San José, California)||2007|
|13.04||Tonea Marshall (Seguin, Arlington, Texas)||2016|
|13.08||Brandee’ Johnson (Nansemond River, Suffolk, Virginia)||2016|
|13.15||*Trinity Wilson (St. Mary’s, Berkeley, California)||2011|
Last year, her time didn’t improve, though she won New Balance (13.03), USATF Juniors (13.02), and the Pan-Am Juniors (13.01). She also claimed the soph-class record and was named No. 2 All-America for the third year in a row.
Not to worry. She knows why she didn’t PR: “I didn’t train as hard as I did freshman year because I felt when I got to sophomore year in high school, my classes just got harder,” she explains. “I was really focused on my grades and it was hard trying to find time because I go to a pretty challenging school.
“After school I have to go to practice and I’ll get home late, but I have tons of homework so I just have to balance that out.”
Now Jones is on track again, with her hopes set on the 12.50s, and father/coach has upped the intensity and incorporated more 400 training, “To get my strength up,” she says.
It showed indoors, where she needed every bit of that strength to win her first New Balance Indoor title, topping Grace Stark (Lakeland, White Lake, Michigan) by just 0.003, both clocking 8.05 for the national junior-class record.
“I love competition because,” she says, “I love the push. Of course, I’m nervous, but it’s a good nervous. I’m a competitive person so I’d rather have competition than no competition.”
Dad says the early success has had no impact on her outlook. “She didn’t know she was doing,” he explains. “She just was running. People don’t realize that Tia is one of the humblest athletes out there. When I told her what schools called for her on signing day, she said, ‘Oh my God, do they really want me?’ I’m looking at her like, ‘You know who you are? You know the kind of work you put in?’ She said, ‘Daddy, are you serious? Are you serious?’
“I’m looking at her in disbelief. Let her stay like that. Let her stay humble. She’s just running. She knows she’s winning, but she doesn’t know to what magnitude she’s winning.”
“I’ve been running track for so long,” she says. “I’ve really been seeing myself grow into a person. I’ve always run against older athletes and higher-ranked athletes. I’ve always been the youngest one on the track. I don’t even want to just make it to the Olympics. I’d like to make it to the record books.”□