Hastings native traveling to Olympics this week
After graduating from college in 2002, Hastings native Mark Jones took a very simple job. That simple job choice at least got him employed, and he was in Washington, D.C., right where he wanted to be.
Jones took a job on a temporary basis, answering phone calls at a lobbying firm. That didn’t last long, though. Jones got busy outside of work. He had studied political science and history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and wanted to put his degree to use. He began to network and met some people who knew of an opening.
Before long, he filled that opening. He landed a position at then-Senator Mark Dayton’s office in the nation’s capitol. He began work there doing research in foreign policy and military affairs. A few years later, his direct supervisor took a new position, and Jones was eventually appointed as Dayton’s foreign policy advisor.
Nowadays, you’ll find Jones a long ways away from the hustle and bustle that is Washington, D.C. He and his family of four are living in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he works as the senior director of communications for the United States Olympic Committee.
He couldn’t help, he said, but rub in the fact that it was 60 degrees earlier this week. He still hears from his friends and family here who have all had enough of winter already.
“We love Colorado,” he said. “Being outdoors. On the trails. Skiing. Golfing 12 months a year is certainly a nice touch. I’m not going to lie. I skied with the kids on Christmas Eve, and I took my daughters golfing on New Year’s Eve day. We’re pretty fortunate to live in a place like this.”
In between D.C. and Colorado, Jones made a very important stop on his journey. He worked in Chicago at an international public affairs firm, where he first started to work with the Olympics. He worked with a few different Olympic sponsors and he worked on Chicago’s bid to play host to the 2016 Olympic games.
By late 2009 and early 2010, Jones got an opportunity to join the United States Olympic Committee, and he jumped at the chance. He’s worked several games since, including games in Singapore, Innsbruck (Austria), Guadalajara and the recent summer Olympic games in London.
He will be in Sochi, Russia, for nearly a month to work at the 2014 Olympics. Jones left yesterday (Wednesday) for Russia and he returns Feb. 25.
Work began seven years ago to get organized for the games in Russia, Jones said. Once the host city is announced, Jones and his team get working on plans for those Olympics. He’s been to Rio de Janeiro several times to get the lay of the land and forge relationships with the people organizing the games there. Rio is hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Typically, an Olympic host city is announced seven years in advance of the games.
“We hit the ground running and start planning right away,” Jones said.
When it comes time for the games to begin, Jones manages 35 members of the communications team. Those press officers work closely with the athletes and the members of the media who want to interview them. They get contacted from people working on behalf of high-profile morning shows from every network. They get contacted by late night television hosts and local newspapers and everything in between, Jones said.
“The tasks vary, but at the end of the day, it’s just making sure these athletes have a good chance to tell their stories,” he said.
Jones ends up fielding organizational questions and questions about Team USA as a whole, too.
The best part of his job, Jones said, is telling the stories of the men and women who make up Team USA.
“The opportunity to work with America’s finest athletes is a pretty unique experience,” he said. “I get to tell some of the best stories out there for a living. It’s just amazing how unique each athlete’s story is. The struggles. The perseverance each has had to achieve the very highest level of excellence.
“Whether it’s someone like Derek Stepan, who has obviously had a pretty quick rise to stardom, or a cross country skier like Kikkan Randall, who has now gone to the games three or four times but just now is going to threaten for a podium position. It runs the gamut. It’s a diverse set of athletes.
“Most of them have overcome pretty incredible challenges to get to where they are. To be around people like that is inspiring. It makes you work even harder on their behalf.”
There are a few other perks, too, Jones said.
“It’s fun to travel and see the world,” he said, “and there are worse things to have to do than go to the Olympics every two years.”
Jones graduated from Hastings High School in 1998. He played football, hockey and golfed for the Raiders and was part of a team that qualified for the state tournament in 1998.
He attended Wisconsin-Madison and moved to Washington, D.C., after graduating in August 2002.
He moved to Chicago in 2005.
He was married in 2006 to Kari, and they have two daughters – Clare and Irene.