Athlete Spotlight: Mahagony Jones

If you’re trying to find Mahagony Jones before the competition begins, you might catch her loosening up somewhere near the track listening to Lil Wayne on her iPod.


That’s when the mental preparation begins. And that’s about the only time  you’ll catch the senior from James Ford Rhodes High.


With her high school career finishing up next month, Jones has been unbeatable in the state this year in races ranging from 60 to 400 meters, and she’s not about to change that anytime soon.


“I am always confident,” she said. “I don’t worry about anybody. I just focus on myself.”


The 18-year-old Jones, bound for Penn State in the fall on a track scholarship, has begun her outdoor season with high expectations. That confidence was certainly boosted during her winter campaign when the gifted sprinter took home gold in three different events at the OATCCC Ohio State Indoor Championship on March 9, earning then personal bests in the 60 (7.49 seconds), the 200 (24.4) and the 400 (55.5).


“I went into the meet saying I had to win all three,” Jones said. “There was no pressure.”


Since her spectacular showing at the state meet, Jones has not missed a beat. Just about a month into the outdoor season, the Rhodes’ speedster improved on her best in two events, clocking winning times of 24.13 for the 200 and an impressive 54.85 for the 400 at the Mansfield Mehock Relays.


Discovered talent early

Jones learned at a young age in her athletic career that she had the ability to sizzle on the track.


“When I was a kid, I was running against a lot of boys,” she recalled. “I was like 10. I would just beat them. At that time, I realized I could run fast.”


From a competitive standpoint, Jones didn’t really dabble into that aspect of running until she entered high school four years ago.


“I was OK as a freshman, but I was just learning the sport,” she said. “I wasn’t that great. I was running like 26 seconds for the 200.”


Jones followed up her initial year on the oval with a strong sophomore year that included a fourth-place finish in the 200 at the outdoor state meet where she clocked a season-best time of 24.56.


Although there was some highlights, Jones didn’t quite have the type of junior season that she anticipated. She improved on her 200 time by just one-hundredth of a second, running 24.55 at the districts last May. Even though she finished second to Beaumont’s Aareon Payne in the 60 and 200 in the indoor championship and was third in the 200 and was fourth in the 100 at the outdoor states, she felt she could have done a little better.


Especially considering she ran so well as a tenth-grader.


“I learned a lot my junior year,” Jones said. “There were a lot of ups and downs.”


Finishing with a bang

Jones’ performance at the indoor state meet a few months ago was the reward of a lot of hard work and dedication. Adding the longer 400 race to her repertoire as a junior, where she showed promise right from the start,  Jones even competed this past fall on the school’s cross-country team to work on her endurance.


She ran a more-than-respectable time of 24:07.20 for the five-kilometer distance.


“It wasn’t my choice,” she said. “My coach (Tyron Owens) convinced me to run. It was a lot of running; a lot of running for a sprinter. But it did help me with my mental toughness.”


Jones, who competed in the Nike Outdoor Nationals last year where she failed to make it past the preliminaries of the 100 and 200 (“It was my first time competing against that type of kids. I could have done better, but I did my best.”), fared much better against national-caliber runner this past winter when she finished third in both the 60 and the 400 at the University of Kentucky Invitational on Feb. 21.


Presently, Jones is high on the national charts in the 200 and 400 with rankings of 14th and 16th, respectively.


As to what event she prefers over the other, there’s not one that sticks out.


“I really can‘t choose,” she said. “I like them all.”


Her future plans are to prosper again at the state level next month and also have strong performances at the Midwest Meet of Champions and the Nike Outdoor Nationals.


She then begins a new chapter of her life at PennState.


“I’ll feel relieved when (high school) is over,” she said. “It’s then time to get ready for the next level of competition. I am relieved and proud of my accomplishments, and how far I’ve come.”