His Olympic poster comes in first

08/06/2007
By Used with permission from the Boston Globe Online.

By Alexander Reid, Globe Staff

In 1972, Michael Jones could swim the 100-meter freestyle fast enough to try out for the US Olympic swim team. But during qualifying trials in Los Angeles that year, he realized something else -- his competition was faster. One of those competitors was Mark Spitz, who went on to Munich to win seven gold medals.

Jones, who failed to make that 1972 Olympic team, moved on with his life. He obtained a master's degree in business administration and a law degree. He became a sports agent and wrote two books on the subject. Today he's a tenured professor, teaching law at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and a judge in Salem District Court.

He has also accomplished his Olympic dream, albeit in a different fashion. He has created a painting that the US Olympic Committee has accepted as the first official poster for the triathlon event at the upcoming Olympics.

''The message I got when I lost out in 1972 was not all first dreams come true," said Jones, standing in his rambling farmhouse on a winding rural road in Pelham, N.H. ''This is not my first dream, but it's a dream. When I got the call from the USOC that they were going to accept my work, I said, 'Yes!' "

The poster combines Jones's two loves.

He's an accomplished painter. His works adorn the walls of his home and his studio. ''My mother was a painter so art was a part of my background," he said. ''I did a lot of sketching early on, then I moved to watercolor. Oil on canvas is what I do now. I've taken courses at the New Hampshire Institute of Art."

Jones is also an elite athlete. He continued competitive swimming after 1972, winning swim meets for master's level swimmers. He added to his athletic resume with long-distance running, competing in the 1995 Penn Relays in Philadelphia, finishing fifth in the 5,000 meters, he said. ''I won a medal for my finish. I was the oldest athlete ever to win a medal."

He broadened his talents beyond swimming and running when he took up bicycling. His next sport was obvious -- triathlon, which combines running, swimming, and bicycling.

In April 2001 he won the master's division of the Pan American International Triathlon in Clermont, Fla. Later that same year, he set a national record for his age group in winning the master's division of the USA Triathlon National Sprint Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla.

And in 2002, he won a gold medal for the 50 to 54 age group at the Aquathlon, an event that combines running and swimming, at the World Championship in Cancun, Mexico. Jones won the event again when it was held in New Zealand a year later.

''At my peak training schedule, I'm training 27 hours a week," he said. ''I work it into my workday. I get up early and start my day with a swim. I bike during lunch, then run in the afternoon with the university runners. At night I bike again."

Art and sport came together one afternoon in 2002 as he sat in his office, admiring two Olympic posters he had bought from a collector in 1972 after he had returned home to Pennsylvania following his Olympic trials. The posters, one of a boxer and the other of a swimmer, inspired him.

''I looked up and wondered if the USOC still accepted posters done by artists," he said. ''I was doing a lot of painting at the time and was pretty happy with the results. The triathlon was a new sport for the Olympics. The 2004 Olympics would be only its second run. I thought creating a poster for the sport would be as fulfilling as being an athlete."

Immediately he contacted associates with USA Triathlon in Colorado Springs. Timothy Yount, executive director of the organization, said Jones was a natural selection as the artist who would create the sport's first poster.

''We knew we would get something from him that would represent the sport since he's a triathlete himself," said Yount, who knew Jones through his work with the national organization. ''Judge [Jones] knows the sport," he said. ''He understands it, so we knew that whatever he came back with would be pertinent. No surprises."

Jones said he spent three months on the projects, initially working from sketches, then progressing to the final painting. ''I usually paint pretty fast, but I felt a little pressure doing this. The world is my audience for this painting. This is part of the history of the Olympic games."

The poster depicts three figures -- a runner, a cycler, and a swimmer -- on a rectangular plane, bordered by symbols called the Greek Key. Each figure is colored in white and partitioned in its own section of the rectangle. Each section is painted in fading colors: yellow and orange for running, blue to green for swimming, and pink to violet for bicycling.

Jones said the fading colors represent the gradual change witnessed by athletes in the midst of a competition. ''I used an aqua blue and then green because of the way water changes as you're swimming in the sea. It's blue but not one shade of blue, and there's algae, which gives it a greenish color. The environment is constantly changing."

Jones received word in March that the USOC would accept his painting. One thousand copies were printed and are being sold at all USOC visitors centers, training sites, and the USA Triathlon headquarters in Colorado.

''It's not the same thing as competing, but still, it's very rewarding," he said.

Alexander Reid can be reached at areid@globe.com.