Top Olympic gymnast returns from dream to finish school
Going to the Olympics is a dream millions of young athletes across the world imagine.
Former OU gymnast Jake Dalton got to live that dream when he was chosen, with four other men, to represent the U.S. at the 2012 London Olympics in men’s gymnastics.
With teammates Danell Leyva, John Orozco, Sam Mikulak and OU graduate Jonathan Horton, Dalton performed against top-notch athletes from across the world.
His contribution to the team consisted of performances on floor, rings and vault. In the end, the U.S. team finished in fifth place.
“It’s great to be involved in an Olympic game; the pressure is immense and intense, and for him to be in that situation and have come out doing a really good job, I felt like we did what we set out to do,” said coach Mark Williams, who accompanied Dalton to the Olympics. “I was thrilled. Jake did everything he could for the team; he hit all of his routines and made floor finals.”
When Dalton first arrived at OU, his worst event was pommel horse, Williams said. During the past three years, Dalton has worked to improve this event and actually has added three to four points to his pommel horse score.
“Jake is in the rare group of being one of the best gymnasts, not only in the U.S., but with his improvements to pommel horse, he is a viable international all-around gymnast,” Williams said.
Dalton’s decision to tour with the Olympic team made him ineligible to perform for OU’s gymnastics team because NCAA rules don’t allow athletes to be paid.
“It wasn’t a fun decision to make, but it was one I had to make to basically start my life and career,” Dalton said. “I already had three great years of college experience competing and working with the coaches and couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Now, back at school, Dalton is finishing his last year. On top of the normal pressures school brings, Dalton now juggles the responsibilities of being a world-class athlete and adult.
Dalton said before he went pro, OU helped him with finances, doctor’s appointments and interviews, but now this all is on his shoulders.
These high praises come from Dalton’s long history of excellence.
On top of being an Olympic athlete, Dalton has received 13 All-American honors in the last three seasons. He also has claimed six gold medals at the U.S. championships, winning vault in 2009, 2011 and 2012, and floor in 2010, 2011 and 2012. At the 2011 World Championships, he helped the U.S team win bronze.
Continuing this success, Dalton took home the Winter Cup gold for all-around earlier this year. Dalton’s next performance is at the American Cup on Saturday in Worcester, Mass.
“I’m still getting back into things,” Dalton said. “But I’m still looking to go there and be consistent and show the new routines I’ve got going and hopefully be able to come up on top.”
At the American Cup, Dalton will be up against some big names. Fellow U.S. Olympic gymnast and friend Leyva will be there as well as gymnasts from Germany, Great Britain, Brazil, Columbia, Japan and Ukraine.
“We’ve been competing against each other since we were around 13 years old,” said Dalton, who competed against Leyva at the Winter Cup Challenge in early February. “In club, you learn how to compete for yourself and against friends. It’s a team effort in college, but we are used to it, and we’re not going to go out there trying to eat each others’ heads off.”
His long-term goal is to return to the Summer Olympics in 2016, but for right now, he’s only focusing on short-terms goals — like winning the American Cup — he said.
Even with all these huge accomplishments, Dalton continues to be humble.
“I’ve been very blessed with the people in my life,” he said. “My parents have done everything they can to help me. They put their lives down on the line for me, and they’re always backing me up.”
“They never pushed me into the sport; it was always because I wanted to, and they supported everything.”