They’re the first thing Charles Jones, Jr. sees when he wakes up. They’re the last things he sees before he drifts off to sleep. Hanging from his bedroom wall are photos of the world’s premier 800-meter runners and their times. Placed there by his father when Jones was an elementary school student, they are who Jones aspires to be. They are who he aspires to beat.
The newest addition to the group is Kenyan David Rudisha and his world record time of 1 minute 41 seconds. That is who Jones is chasing. He will run him down. It’s just a matter of time.
Jones, 16, is a marvel in the 800. Actually, marvel may not be strong enough. He’s a revelation. A 6-foot-2, 160-pound sophomore at Cardinal Ritter, Jones was the talk of the Class 3 state championship meet in Jefferson City when he torched the track at Dwight T. Reed Stadium in 1:49.96. It broke the 25-year-old Class 3 mark of 1:51.25 held by Willard’s two-time Olympian Jason Pyrah. It was a whisker from breaking the overall record of 1:49.89 set that same year by Parkview’s Billy Rainey. It was the fourth fastest 800 by a high school athlete in the nation this year and the fastest turned in by a sophomore.
But Jones’ state weekend got even better. He anchored Cardinal Ritter’s state championship 3,200 and 1,600 relay teams, which set Class 3 records.
For his incredible performance, Jones is the Post-Dispatch All-Metro boys track athlete of the year.
And to imagine all of this nearly never happened. Jones’s father asked his baby boy to give track a chance as a second or third grader. Jones admits it wasn’t love at first sprint. It wasn’t love at second sprint. Basketball was what Jones loved first. He fell hard for the hardwood. When he was at the track his mind was on basketball. There were some days Jones would have happily turned in his spikes for high tops and left the sport all together.
“It was a couple times,” Jones said. “My friends were the reason (I kept coming back).”
As he grew older and his talents blossomed, Jones began to come around to running. He still gets his basketball jones during the winter as a starter with the Ritter varsity. But the sweet, sweet taste of victory was never as good as when it came in a race.
“Winning made me keep doing it,” Jones said.
Winning is all Jones knows how to do. And he does it in an event that is, simply, brutal. The 800 isn’t a glamour race. It doesn’t have the sex appeal of the 100 or the daredevil nuttiness of the pole vault. The 800 is like having hot lava poured into your lungs. It’s two laps around the track and, while we like to call it a “middle distance race,” it’s a sprint. The way the elite runners attack the 800, it’s a sprint. The way Jones goes about his business, it’s a sprint.
And that’s all part of his plan.
Jones pushes to the front of the pack and sets the pace. He wants the field to know they’re running his race. Keep up if you can.
“I like to run from the start,” Jones said. “If you can beat me going at my pace, then more power to you. I go hard that first lap.”
Jones routinely checks in with a 400 meter split between 52 and 53 seconds. That type of attack wears out the distance runners who drop down to compete in the 800 and can put an enormous mental hurdle in front of anyone who wants to challenge him.
Even as he leaves the competition in his wake, Jones always believes there is someone over his shoulder. In his mind he’s only a step ahead of his competition. Truth be told he is light years ahead of his closest challenger.
But Jones sees his competition on his bedroom wall every day. He’s competing against the giants of the sport. In this race, Jones is still nowhere near the front.
“I can run from behind,” Jones said. “But I like to run from the front.”
He will. It’s just a matter of time.