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Strong spring has UB shot put champ Jon Jones ready for U.S. meet

Former University at Buffalo star shot-putter Jon Jones already has one national title under his belt this year.

He aims for another when the USA Track and Field Championships are held June 23-25 in Sacramento, Calif.

Jones, 26, won the U.S. Indoor title in March, his second national crown. He won the NCAA Division I championship for UB in 2015.

Jones has been training at the USATF Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., since Oct. 29 and is feeling good about his performance.

“I’ve been getting a lot of good training in,” Jones said. “I’ve been hitting a lot of big throws in competition, I’ve just been fouling. Prior to this year, most of my big throws I was able to save, and I never really had any bigger throws than what I saved. Now I’m hitting bigger, further throws, but I’m not able to save them. So it’s just little technical tweaks I need to do.”

Jones ranks No. 4 in the United States this year, with a personal best throw of 68 feet, 8 inches on May 27 in training at Chula Vista.

The move to Chula Vista, just south of San Diego, was a boost to Jones’ career. Jones’ career accomplishments earned him the residency, where the nation’s top throwers get to work at a world-class facility with national coaches and trainers.

“They offered me free housing and free training and free eating, basically,” Jones said.

Competing daily against the best competition is a big perk. Among those training in Chula Vista are Ryan Crouser, the shot put gold medalist at the Rio Olympics last year, as well as U.S. Olympian Darrell Hill. Joe Kovacs, the Olympic silver medalist and 2015 world champion, doesn’t live in Chula Vista but trains regularly there.

“There’s a bunch of other Olympians who train here as well,” Jones said. “It’s just a good, winning environment here.”

Jones big throw at Chula Vista (20.93 meters) eclipsed his personal best by 1 centimeter. The previous best came in a fifth-place finish at the U.S. Outdoor Championships in 2015. Jones’ NCAA winning throw was 20.78 meters.

“I watched his throws on Facebook and they’re looking good,” said UB throws coach Jim Garnham, whose tutelage helped turn the Portville High graduate into a national champ. “It’s the best he has looked in a long time. He’s consistently between 20.80 and 20.90 now. I told him 21-plus is right there.”

Jones threw 67-4.2 (20.53 meters) at the US indoors in Albuquerque, N.M., in March. Initially that earned him second place. But when winner Darian Moore tested positive for steroids, Jones was awarded the gold medal on May 8. Jones beat both Hill and two-time former world indoor champ Ryan Whiting at that event.

Jones placed fifth at the 2016 world indoor championship. He fouled out at the U.S. Olympic Trials four months later. But shot putters don’t usually hit their prime until their late 20s. So Jones’ future remains bright.

A sore knee hindered some of his strength training much of 2015 and 2016.

“My knee’s been feeling good,” he said. “It’s been holding up. I’ve been slowly building strength back into the legs, because I missed a couple years of training on them. I’m able to train full go, throw as many throws as I can get in a practice.”

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