OU junior one of five Sooners on the U.S. World Championships squad.
Oct. 7, 2011
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Jacob Dalton's dream to become an Olympic gymnast started out as a way to make him a better baseball player.
Dalton was 6 years old when his baseball coach suggested he try gymnastics to strengthen his pitching arm. He ended up falling in love with his new sport and dropped baseball altogether a few years later.
"It may have been the wrong sport for money, but it was definitely a good choice," Dalton said.
Dalton has become a rising star in U.S. gymnastics over the past year. He followed up a surprise win at the Winter Cup, a U.S. ranking meet, by winning bronze at the American Cup as an alternate and he earned a spot on the U.S. team for the world championships in Tokyo.
The U.S. men compete Sunday at the main qualifier for next summer's London Olympics.
"I'm kind of living my dream right now," Dalton said. "A lot of people when they go in the NFL draft or when they make the major leagues, it's kind of like that for us right now. We're still in college but we're able to go compete on the world level for the U.S. and for Oklahoma. So, it's definitely exciting and it kind of gives me the chills every time I think about it."
Dalton is one of four current or former Sooners gymnasts on the team -- including double Olympic medalist Jonathan Horton. Alternate Chris Brooks is a former Sooner, as well.
Dalton brings different skills to the team. He won the floor and vault titles at the U.S. championships in August, and had the third-highest still rings score of the guys who made the U.S. team.
"He has five great events and is a little weak on pommel horse, but he's getting there," said Mark Williams, Oklahoma's coach and an assistant for the U.S. team. "I think by next year, he's going to have a very, very legitimate chance to be right there with Danell (Leyva) and Jon (Horton) as one of our top three guys."
Dalton, who Williams called a "rib" who holds the team together, said his primary focus is to contribute solid scores on the vault and floor. If he's successful, he'll also earn himself a spot in the event finals and a shot at an individual medal.
"I'm going to do the best I can on those events, and hopefully help out the team as much as I can, and if I do that the individual part just kind of falls in with that," Dalton said. "The main goal for this year is the team. The U.S. has never won the world championships, so that's definitely a huge goal and that's what we're striving for right now."
Dalton is from Sparks, Nev., outside Reno, where his parents bought a gym about a decade ago to help with his training. He arrived at Oklahoma in 2009 as a specialist on the vault, having won the U.S. title on the event.
Williams stressed that he needed to focus not on improving his strongest event, but on becoming an all-around gymnast.
It took some time to adjust to the grind of college, and Williams said the all-around approach may have initially hurt Dalton on his best events. But now, the results are starting to show.
"When I came here, everything started to fall in place," Dalton said. "There was a lot of hard work put in, but it definitely paid off."
While he's still best on the vault, he's now at the point where he's competitive in other events, too. His first big splash came at the Winter Cup in February, when he won the all-around despite the presence of Leyva, the U.S. champion.
"It opened some people's eyes that when I'm on, I can hit and I can be very competitive," Dalton said. "I think that kind of showed some people that I have a spot in the all-around that I can do if I stay on horse."
Williams said he can see the 20-year old Dalton being a factor not only for the London Games next summer but "maybe he and Danell become the new tandem for that next cycle."
"Making the Olympics would just kind of complete my whole entire life's dream," Dalton said. "When you start growing up, it kind of fades away.
"It makes it more of a dream than reality, then you start getting closer and closer as we are now and now it's starting to become a reality."
By Jeff Latzke, Associated Press