“There was definitely a point when I was questioning what was right for me during my freshman year when I got to OU,” Dalton said. “It wasn’t the fact that I didn’t like it. It was just the fact that my coach Mark Williams was so different from my other coaches. He was very structured and knew exactly what I needed to do to be good. He knew exactly how to break me down and make me peak at the right time.
“When I came in I was only 17, so I was very young. I hadn’t experienced anything as structured as college. Mark had a plan and everything set. It was really hard, but he knew what he needed me to do. I didn’t agree sometimes so it was really hard at the beginning. I had some down times. There were points when I’d think ‘Man, what am I doing?’ but I decided to trust everything. Once things started clicking I started feeling better and doing better.
“That was a point in my career where things really started to take off. I just had to trust Mark and his planning and coaching. Obviously everything has been working out since then. It’s been fantastic.”
Fantastic would be among a number of words in the dictionary Dalton could use at the moment after he was named to the U.S. men’s gymnastics team last week for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Winning performances at the Visa Championships and U.S Trials in both the floor exercise and vault left little doubt that he belonged.
“It’s something I have been working for since I was just a little kid, since I started gymnastics,” he said. “It’s definitely a dream come true and something really exciting to be able to do. It’s a bittersweet moment at the same time because you have friends and old teammates and people you’ve competed against since you were younger that didn’t make the team and are upset, but you also have friends and yourself that made the team. It’s a remarkable experience and something I’m going to remember for a lifetime.
“I’m waking up every morning and I feel like a little kid on Christmas morning. I’m just excited to get every day started and I’m thinking about the Olympic Games and that I’m on the team and just how exciting it all is.”
For Denise Dalton, Jake’s mother, it was a moment of relief and gratification, as well as surprise.
“To be honest, I didn’t think this was possible,” Denise Dalton said. “I knew it would be a long shot. At the time when he started talking about it, when he was younger, there were six men on the team and six guys out of the country is pretty hard to do. I never told him it wasn’t possible. I always said if that’s what he wanted he was really going to have to work for it. I didn’t start believing it was possible until about three years ago when he started at Oklahoma.
“At the trials it was nerve wracking but when he nailed his floor routine I knew that he had done what had been asked of him. I was pretty confident at that point. I actually found out from one of the University of Oklahoma moms first. She had seen it on a website before Jake even knew and she let me know. My daughter and I just started jumping up and down. We were at the hotel waiting for Jake and we started jumping up and down. All those years of his hard work, and finally he achieved what he was trying to do. I’m extremely proud. It’s hard to put into words how excited and proud we are. It’s a lot of years of dedication.”
While the 2009 Spanish Springs High graduate, who grew up in Fernley, and his family are reaping the rewards now, it was a turn of fate at a camp for another sport that first landed him in the gym.
“I was actually doing baseball when I was pretty young and one of my coaches told me to start up gymnastics because it would help with my pitching arm. So when I was about six I basically started doing classes and started progressing and eventually got on the team and started competing. I was doing both gymnastics and baseball and it got a little crazy so I ended up needing to decide between baseball and gymnastics and I ended up choosing gymnastics.”
It was a difficult switch at first but one that has obviously paid off.
“It was kind of tough when he decided he wanted to stick with gymnastics over baseball,” said Denise Dalton, who will travel with her family to London for the Games. “I had grown up around baseball and softball and that was the sport I really liked. Along with my brother, I coached Jake for T-ball so I was looking at it like I wanted my son to play baseball. When he chose gymnastics it was what he wanted and we went with that. It turned out to be the best thing for him and we figured that out within a couple of years. I wouldn’t choose any other path for him.”
It is a path that will take the local standout from a small gym in Sparks to the grandest of stages in this summer’s Olympiads. Now all that is left for the 20-year-old, who is expected to compete in the rings as well as in the floor exercise and vault, is a gold medal to top it all off.
“The gold means everything to us. Our team isn’t being shy about that either. It’s a goal for us and I think it’s definitely possible,” Jake Dalton said. “We came in third at the World Championships in Tokyo last year and showed the world that we do have the talent and the fight and potential to be in the running for the gold. We’re going to do everything we can to get that gold medal
“I want to take in everything I can. I want to just enjoy it. I can’t wait to start training and to get over there. I’m just looking forward to everything about being an Olympian. The process to get there has been hard and grueling and it’s finally paid off so I’m going to enjoy it. Other sports like football have the NFL draft and the Super Bowl, and for gymnastics this is the equivalent of that. This is the biggest thing and I couldn’t be more excited to represent the U.S. I’m just very honored. It’s just mind boggling to think that I’ll be on this team. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”