Who is... Jake Dalton
If it weren’t for a mostly forgotten 80’s movie whose star was nominated for a Razzie Award, Jake Dalton might never have become an Olympic gymnast.
Reno, Nevada native Dalton was 6 years old when he saw “American Anthem,” starring 1984 Olympic team champion Mitch Gaylord, on TV and thought gymnastics looked like the coolest sport in the world. Not long after, his baseball coach suggested he try gymnastics so he could improve his pitching arm and overall strength.
It didn't take long for Dalton to pick gymnastics over baseball. Then when he was 9 years old, his training center went up for sale. His parents, who didn’t have any background in gymnastics but wanted to encourage their son’s athletic potential, decided to buy it.
"They took over a gym club in order to provide the best training for my sister and me," Dalton said. "My parents still run the gym and still come to almost every competition they can. I couldn't have had better parents. They supported me no matter what and they did everything they could to provide the best training facility for me."
Dalton made his senior debut in 2009 and became a collegiate gymnast at Oklahoma in 2010, but it was the 2011 season that made him an Olympic contender.
First, he became the NCAA champion on floor and vault, then captured those same two titles at the national championships.
20-year-old Dalton was named to his second world championships team in the fall of 2011. He competed on floor, vault and still rings in the team final—helping the U.S. men claim a bronze medal. He also qualified for his first Worlds event final, floor exercise, and finished eighth.
The consistent Dalton played a similar role on the 2012 Olympic team as he did on the 2011 Worlds team, again competing on floor, vault and still rings in the team final. But mistakes elsewhere, especially on pommel horse, sunk the U.S. men’s hopes of earning a team medal and they finished fifth. Dalton qualified individually for the floor final and finished fifth there as well.
Dalton remembers feeling shocked that the team came home empty-handed.
“Going into London, we had medaled in 2011 at the world championships, and we really believed that we’re that good. Almost anything that we do, we’re gonna come out with a medal, and that’s actually kind of how I viewed it. I was like, ‘God, no matter what we do, we’re gonna come away with a medal.’
“And when you get to the Olympics games, it’s a whole different story. So we got fifth, and it was a real eye opener. I think I’ve been able to grow and learn from that, that you don’t just take things for granted. You still have to go there. You still have to perform well. Obviously, the other countries, it’s the Olympic Games. Everybody’s gonna show up ready to compete. I’ve just grown a lot from it, but it was a really, really fun experience, and I’m really hoping to be at the next one.”
After the Olympics, Dalton competed at the next two world championships and picked up medals at both: a silver medal on floor exercise in 2013 and bronzes on vault and in the team competition in 2014.
A torn labrum in Dalton’s left shoulder derailed his momentum in the second half of 2015, however. He was unable to compete at the national championships, and despite a petition promising that he’d be healthy for Worlds, he was left off the team.
Dalton underwent surgery and at the 2016 national championships proved he was back in a big way. He claimed gold again on his best events, floor and vault, and also picked up bronze medals in the all-around and on the still rings.
"Jake's just like a beautiful person, just like wow, look at his eyes. I wish my eyes were that nice like his."
You can watch Jake Dalton at the 2016 Rio Olympics starting Saturday, August 6th at 1:30pm ET in the men’s qualification session.
The team final will take place on Monday, August 8th at 3pm ET.
If Dalton qualifies for the all-around final, he will compete on Wednesday, August 10th at 3pm ET.
If Dalton qualifies for the event finals, the men’s floor and pommel horse finals will be held on Sunday, August 14th at 1pm ET, the men's rings and vault finals will be held on Monday, August 15th and the men's parallel bars and horizontal bars finals will be held on Tuesday, August 16th.