by Christina Jones
Monday, August 22nd 2016
Christina Jones is now a synchronized swimmer in the Cirque du Soleil show, "O". Before she became part of the production, she was a 2008 Olympian.
(Courtesy: "O" by Cirque du Soleil | Christina Jones)
LAS VEGAS (KSNV News3LV) — For most, the Olympics are a sporting spectacle that happens every four years. But for the Olympians, the Olympic games are top of mind every day. But after the pomp and circumstance, the medals and confetti, what comes next?
Most people go through a minor post-Olympic depression. Suddenly, the news isn’t focused on remarkable athleticism, inspirational backstories, and sportsmanship. Politics and war are front and center once more, and everyone goes back to their normal routines.
I never gave much thought to what would come after my Olympic experience in 2008. Of course, I had rough goals and dreams for my future, but I never had the time or energy to really hammer out the details. Every waking minute was dedicated to my Olympic dream.
Immediately following the Beijing Olympic Games, I shipped all of my belongings home in a box and took off on a month-long backpacking expedition through Southeast Asia. When I finally touched down on U.S. soil, it was time to celebrate my 21st birthday. After this succession of adrenaline-filled experiences, it hit me: what was I going to do next?
Until that moment, I had been told what to eat, what to wear, what to think, and where to be. Virtually every minute of my day had been accounted for. All of a sudden, I found myself faced with some very unfamiliar freedoms.
I traveled the world some more, started taking a few classes at Diablo Valley College, and toyed with the idea of returning to competition.
Then something unexpected happened. I received a phone call from my team's Olympic Choreographer, Stephan Miermont, who was an original cast member of Cirque du Soleil’s production “O” at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He informed me that there was a need for a synchronized swimmer at “O”, and wondered if I would be willing to move from the San Francisco Bay Area to Las Vegas within the next few weeks.
It didn’t take me long to make my decision. Before I knew it, my bags were packed and I was off to Sin City!
It was time for me to transition from an elite athlete to an artist, Cirque style. I had pushed my body to the limits of competitive synchronized swimming, but suddenly I was presented with a whole new world and unfamiliar set of challenges.
In competitive synchronized swimming, every move is set, matched, and timed perfectly. We even take crucial gasps of air in sync! Cirque allowed me freedom to express and explore my artistic side. While we do have set choreography at “O”, we also have points in the show where we have the privilege of doing what we feel in the moment.
I will never forget learning a portion of the show which requires us to get up off the stage in a way that we would if gravity was multiplied. We have to feel heavy and really struggle to stand up. In another part, we have to "laugh with our feet.” The synchronized swimmers even get to do harness work and get lifted out of the water at “O”, and all of these new experiences made me feel alive and fresh again.
In my eyes, performing for Cirque is a synchronized swimmer’s way to “go pro”. I fell completely in love with my sport in a way that I had never imagined, and I feel privileged to be able to have a career based on the athletic skills I spent my whole life developing.
I started to wonder how my newly developed artistry and body awareness could improve my performance as a competitor, so I returned to competition in 2010 and 2015. Last summer, my duet partner Bill May (another performer at “O”) and I brought home the gold from the World Championships. I had retired in 2008 thinking I had fulfilled my competitive goals, and then there I was seven years later. I became a world champion for the first time.
I am eternally thankful for lessons I learned from being an Olympian. Among them, persistence, perfectionism, sportsmanship, respect, dedication, and the value of hard work. I feel I’m able to apply these lessons to any situation life throws at me. I’m also grateful for the opportunity to develop as an artist and collaborate with people from other countries and cultures with Cirque.
The Olympics will always be very special to me. Although I didn’t compete, the 2016 Rio Olympic Games offered a new set of challenges when I became the Olympic Analyst for News 3. I was able to study and scrutinize every facet of the Games from a new perspective, I became more familiar with sports I hadn’t been exposed to, and learned about athletes from all over the world. I was able to appreciate the Games in a completely different way.
As a 6-year-old, I had no idea my hobby would become an Olympic dream and then earn me a dream artistic career with Cirque du Soleil. What I did know was that I loved the feel of the water, the spark and energy of performing, and the challenge to improve, collaborate and perfect my skills. So, what comes next for these Olympians who are heading home after the Closing Ceremony? To me, it seems anything and everything is possible.
GUEST COLUMNIST:Christina Jones: The road to the world championships by way of Las Vegas
By Christina Jones
Wednesday, July 22, 2015 | 6:57 p.m.
Editor’s Note: As Robin Leach wraps his travels to Sardinia and Santa Marinella on the coast outside Rome to enjoy his traditional summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, many of our Strip personalities have stepped forward in his absence to pen their words of wisdom.
We continue today with “Jersey Boys” at Paris Las Vegas star Graham Fenton, who portrays Frankie Valli, and Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at Bellagio super-swimmer Christina Jones as she prepares to compete in the world championships in Russia. Here’s Christina:
I look down, and I am naked. I look up, and I am standing in front of thousands of people, flashing cameras and panels of judges in a massive arena. The music starts, and I plunge into the chilly pool. Frantically, I try to remember the choreography, but it has mysteriously slipped my mind.
Then I wake up in a nest of twisted sheets in my bed. My heart is racing, and I am gasping for air. This is the kind of nightmare I used to get while training for the Olympics. Suddenly, I remember that I agreed to return to competitive synchronized swimming. What was I thinking?!
I thought that I was finished competing after receiving my final scores at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Shortly after the Games, I ran away with the circus when I landed my dream job as a performer in “O” by Cirque du Soleil.
After more than six years in the show at Bellagio, I never thought that I would be offered the opportunity to help change history in my sport. Right before I graduated from UNLV last December, I came across some exciting news that would change thousands of lives forever.
On Nov. 29, the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA) voted a new event called the mixed duet into the world of competitive synchronized swimming, allowing men to compete in FINA-sanctioned events for the first time in history. The event, which features a man and woman swimming together, debuts at the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia, from Friday through Aug. 9.
Bill May, Kristina Lum Underwood and I will be representing the United States in this monumental event. I’m swimming the technical program with Bill. Kristina, who pioneered the mixed-duet event with Bill and is a current performer in “Le Reve — The Dream” at Wynn Las Vegas, is swimming the free program with him.
Bill, a fellow artist in “O,” is a trailblazer for men in synchronized swimming. Throughout his competitive career, he has won 14 U.S. national titles and 20 international titles. Despite the fact that Bill is a legendary athlete, he has always been deemed ineligible to compete in FINA-sanctioned competitions because of his gender — until now.
Training for synchronized swimming is grueling and can last as long as 10 hours a day six days a week. Unimaginable amounts of repetition are required to get synchronized swimmers’ moves perfectly matched.
All three of us are juggling our world championship training during the day while maintaining our respective 10 shows per week at night. Our incredible coach, Chris Carver, visits us in Las Vegas.
During our weekends, we fly to Santa Clara, Calif., to train with her. Bianca Van Der Velden, a two-time Dutch Olympian, coaches us in Las Vegas. As challenging as this daunting task can be, it is extremely meaningful for all of us.
We are extremely humbled as we have received an immense amount of support from our friends, families, the Santa Clara Aquamaids and our employers. This journey is a group effort, and we are counting down the days until we can demonstrate our gratitude on the world stage.
The introduction of mixed duets means that Bill can finally fulfill his impossible dream. I am honored to be a part of his journey, and I look forward to swimming by his side in Russia.