Indoor WR Primed Tia Jones’ Second Act

Jones’ transition from teen phenom to the pro ranks ”took some time,” she admits. Equaling the 60H World Record in Albuquerque suggests she’s in the groove now. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

ONE REGRETTABLE ELEMENT of the culture generally — and track & field specifically — is to build up heroes, then tear them down. Or at least forget them.

Could have happened to Tia Jones. Did not happen to Tia Jones.

Because she was hurdling to records a decade ago, we forget she is 23. What she did at the USATF Indoor Championships last week will be a lasting memory.

The 5-4 former teen superstar tied the World Record, 7.67, in a 60 hurdles heat. Then, 105 minutes later and after two restarts, she nearly matched that by winning the final in 7.68.

Such an outcome might have been forecast as long ago as 2015. As an eighth-grader, she won New Balance Nationals in the 100 hurdles and reached 13.08w. She said she ended up as a hurdler because she was repulsed by the 400 meters.

In 2016, as a frosh, she set a still-standing High School Record of 12.84 and won a bronze medal at the U20 (Junior) World Championships at age 15.

But three years ago?

No sports book was taking bets on Tia Jones.

Regrettably, she was knocked out of the upcoming indoor Worlds — the news reaching T&FN shortly before publication of this article. An MRI revealed an injury (not disclosed) from tumbling down the track at the USATF final, coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said. Jones had banged off crash pads at the end of the straightaway.

This is not the end, the hurdler had said in Albuquerque. More like a new beginning.

“If I put my beginning and my end together,” she said, “the world’s in my hands.”

Since age 8, Jones’ career has mostly been in the hands of her father, Tyronne Jones, a SWAC player of the year at Grambling and Arena Football League wide receiver. Dad knew speed.

After a 2018 World Junior gold medal, Tia went pro in her senior year of high school. She clocked 12.88 in 2019 but did not advance out of the first round of nationals. She acknowledged it “took me some time” to transition from preps to pros.

Then the pandemic, a ruptured Achilles and a pulled hamstring ruined her next three seasons.

By 2022, the Marietta, Georgia, native was training in Florida with Olympic champion Jasmine Camacho-Quinn under Irish coach John Coghlan. Jones returned to her father last year but has since switched to Buford-Bailey, the former hurdler who coaches a sprint/hurdles group in Austin, Texas.

Buford-Bailey had previously wanted to coach Jones.

“Fortunately, she gave me a shot,” the coach said. “She came in wide open. ‘Whatever you tell me, I’m going to do.’ She was open to changes or adjustments. So right away, she just dove in full throttle. She’s a quick learner.

“Her personality is going to take her a long way, too. She is so down to earth and easy to work with.”

Coach and athlete credit Jones’ father for the hurdler’s development.

Jones is coming off back-to-back seasons of Top 10 world rankings: No. 5 in 2022, No. 7 in ’23. She put up 12 sub-12.60 times in the outdoor hurdles in 2022, 14 in ’23. Her PR of 12.38 dates to September 2022 in Brussels.

She didn’t make the Worlds team in either year but at the ’22 Diamond League Final finished 2nd in 12.40 behind world champion Tobi Amusan — and ahead of Camacho-Quinn.

This season Jones opened by winning in 7.72 at the New Balance GP, then finished 3rd at Millrose in 7.79 behind Devynne Charlton as the Bahamian’s 7.67 broke the World Record of 7.68 held by Sweden’s Susanna Kallur since 2008.

Coincidentally, Kallur trained in college under hall-of-fame coach Gary Winckler, who also coached Buford-Bailey at Illinois. Buford-Bailey continues to consult with Winckler and implement his techniques.

Buford-Bailey, a former head coach at Illinois and Texas, is a three-time Olympian and 1996 bronze medalist in the 400 hurdles. She takes a more holistic approach than some peers.

“She is the definition of the coach who individualizes for the athlete,” Jones said. “She will go home and study. She will sit down with you. She’s not the type of coach who says, ‘Go do this, go do that.’”

Buford-Bailey didn’t exactly say “go set a World Record,” but she suggested it was coming. After a January 5 workout on a high school track, she was convinced Kallur’s record was going down.

Charlton broke it first, then Jones. She called her coach’s approach “refreshing” in its detail.

“The trajectory of her career is actually in a good spot,” Buford-Bailey said. “Her fundamentals are good. Her running mechanics are great. She is a fierce competitor. And she’s a professional.

“It’s always been there. She needed somebody to pull it out of her.”

Jones acknowledged depth in the hurdles worldwide and in the United States. Of the 12 fastest of 2023 in the 100 hurdles, 6 were Americans and 10 (all but Jones and Megan Tapper) ran at U.S. colleges.

Jones has not stepped on to an international podium since the 2018 U20s. Don’t forget about her.

“It really matters what you do when it matters,” she said.