Hurdle Ace Tia Jones Is Chasing Herself

The biggest domestic win for AOY runner-up Tia Jones was the national Junior title. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

When Tia Jones (Walton, Marietta, Georgia) hurdled 12.89 to win the USATF Junior title over a field of collegians in June, the time tied the No. 2 prep mark ever. The only one ahead of it on the all-time list is her own breakout national record of 12.84 set two years ago (the other 12.89 is hers as well). Not a bad accomplishment for a junior who ended up as No. 2 in our Athlete Of The Year voting. Yet it’s not the performance she points to when asked what her best race of the year was.

Nor does she mention the finals at the World Junior (U20) Championships in Tampere, Finland, which she won in the slimmest of margins over Jamaica’s Brittany Anderson, each clocking 13.01. Instead, Jones says, the topper came in the semis, which she won in 13.06. “It made me realize that even though I didn’t think I was going as fast as I could I still went 13.0,” she says. “It seemed like it showed me something; it showed me that I can do better.”

That’s been the theme for Jones ever since her breakthrough in ’15, when she ran 13.45/13.08w, won the New Balance Nationals and became the first 8th-grader ever to earn All-America status, picking off her first of three straight No. 2s. Her HSR came when she was just a 9th-grader running in the heats of the USA Juniors. As a soph her development stalled as she put her emphasis on her studies and she clocked “only” a 13.01, good for No. 2 on the yearly list.

But in 2018, Jones wanted a lot more: “My goal was to go 12-mid, but that didn’t happen, but it’s OK. I think that that would be probably my main concern, but I’m still happy with what I did.”

Her father/coach, Tyronne Jones, echoes that sentiment, saying, “It didn’t end the way we planned it to end. There was so much stuff going on within the family [that distracted her]. I was pleased with it, but I wasn’t happy about it.”

“I think that not every race I’m going to get what I expect,” Tia reflects, noting that she is picking up experience and learning about herself. “Just being prepared really isn’t enough. There are a lot of other things to it.”

“She’s been good so long,” dad adds, “You expect more.” Specifically, he thought her workouts pointed to a time of about 12.7.

Being able to compete against other top hurdlers is a crucial element for Jones. “This year was great. I was able to meet a lot of new people; athletes already in college and familiar with the college experience.”

Having just turned 18 and begun a senior year in which she can become the first 5-time All-Am the event has ever seen, the heavily recruited Jones is hoping that what she has learned will help her in choosing a college. So far, though, she’s in no rush, having only completed one visit, to Texas. “I’m taking it one step at a time,” she explains. “I’m focusing more on school and just really not even getting into detail with a lot of coaches. I’m standing my ground and trying to have a clear path.”

Her father notes that a visit to Oregon is upcoming, but the two are not pursuing collegiate offers aggressively, saying, “I said to her, ‘Everyone’s gone on their official visits, now it’s your turn.’ After a few more visits, she’ll come to a conclusion on where she wants to go.”

The focus for the ’19 season, she adds, is racing. “I love competition. I want to compete with higher-level athletes in general. Against any athletes on the next level, I would love to be there and run. I’m looking forward to those big college meets.” The pursuit of competition will remain the top focus, according to Tyronne. “She’s in good spirits about it, but there’s no one in high school competition that can push her until she gets to Nationals. She’s out there running fast times by herself.” Next year, he believes, “If she does what she needs to do and stays injury-free, I’d expect for her to go 12.5-12.6.” If she does that, he adds, “No one in high school will be with her. She might have to turn pro, because not many college athletes are there.

“It wouldn’t make any sense to run in college if you’re getting the same results in college that you did in high school right now. No one can beat you and it’s not fair to you or helping any.” He clarifies that they are open to all possibilities, including a full collegiate career or possibly just a year or two. “She needs to get that time where she needs to be,” he says.

Tia adds, “I’m pretty much on track. As an athlete, I think I am growing on and off the track. “I like to think that I’m always positive and strong-minded. My family and friends are very supportive. They’re a help in everything.”