Cullen Jones was born in the Bronx borough of New York City and later his family moved to Irvington, NJ. At the age of five, he almost drowned at a water park. Following the near-death encounter, his mother enrolled him in swimming lessons, and soon he excelled in the pool.
Cullen earned a scholarship to North Carolina State University where he went on to become a four-time ACC Champion and an NCAA champion. In 2008, Cullen qualified for the Beijing Olympics in the 4x100m relay, swimming in the third leg of the spectacular come-from-behind race. This cemented Cullen's place in Olympic history, being the first African American to have a world record, which still stands 12 years later. In July 2009, Cullen established an American record in the 50m free with a time of 21.40 seconds. In the 2012 London Olympics, Cullen added to his medal count with a Gold and two Silvers, one of which came in his specialty race, the 50m freestyle.