Commentary

It's a waiting game for Dalton

Updated: July 1, 2012, 1:42 AM ET
By Michelle Smith | espnw

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Jake Dalton considers himself, first and foremost, a nice guy.

Except that nice guys don't usually finish where Dalton is hoping to close this odyssey, one that began in a small town in Nevada and may well end up in London.

"Coming into this event, you know you've done everything you can to train, you've prepared your whole life for this, and walking out and leaving it out on the floor, that's a just a huge relief," Dalton said.

[+] EnlargeJake Dalton
AP Photo/Jae C. HongJake Dalton's fall from the pommel horse was his only significant mistake of the day.

Dalton did what he could to make his case for the men's gymnastics Olympic team Saturday in the final day of competition at the U.S. Olympic trials.

The 20-year-old nailed performances on his strongest events, vault and floor, and came through with consistent efforts on the parallel bars, the high bar and rings. His fall off the pommel horse -- not one of his strongest events -- was his most significant mistake of the day.

He finished tied for fourth with Chris Brooks. Those two could be battling for the final spot on the team, a decision left to the selection committee. The team will be announced Sunday morning.

"It's going to be intense," Dalton said. "I'm not going to be able to sleep at all tonight. But I have to try to relax. This part's over, so it's a waiting game."

Dalton could find himself competing with Brooks in a scenario that has Danell Leyva and John Orozco already on the team, veteran Jonathan Horton considered a lock and a spot likely going to Sam Mikulak, who had to scratch all but one event Saturday because of an ankle sprain.

Dalton also could be weighed against best friend Steven Legendre, his Oklahoma teammate, who is strong in floor and finished the trials eighth overall. Legendre might have a stronger chance as an alternate.

"I think Jake is undeniable," Legendre said. "Everybody watches Jake and they recognize that he's unbelievably clean and unbelievably consistent and he has the difficulty as well."

Dalton's gymnastics story is not particularly typical. On an American team full of interesting stories -- Orozco's upbringing in the Bronx, Leyva's journey from Cuba -- Dalton has hit own unique niche.

He grew up in Fernley, Nev., a small city of 20,000 outside of Reno. There were no gymnasts in his gene pool. His mother played softball and volleyball, his dad football and basketball.

He had a pretty good baseball swing for an 8-year-old little league player, but gymnastics really seemed to be his sport.

It was so much his sport, in fact -- his sister was competing as a young gymnast, as well -- that when the local gym went up for sale, his parents sold their cement business and bought the gym.

"I'm thankful for everything they've done for me," Dalton said. "It was over the top of everything they could do for me."

Dalton clearly had talent, But when he got to the University of Oklahoma, coach Mark Williams saw a budding star who needed some boundaries.

"His parents really just did everything from their heart and they wanted their son to do what he loved doing," Williams said. "But in some ways, when he came to Oklahoma, he really hadn't had a lot of coaching where somebody told him, 'No, you can't do that, you need to do this.' So our first year was interesting."

Williams said he and Dalton worked out a plan that could get him to the Olympics.

"But it wasn't always a plan he was necessarily happy with," Williams said. "As the year went on, he began to understand, but it was definitely an adjustment for him."

Williams worked to make Dalton a more complete all-around gymnast, even as he won the NCAA titles in floor and vault in 2011. Williams said he now believes Dalton is ready for the Olympic stage after finishing first in the trials field in floor and vault.

"He was 4-for-4 on vault and floor here and he made it look easy," Williams said of Dalton's Day 1 and 2 combined effort. "These are not high-risk routines for him. ... There's nobody else on the team that can get those scores. You add in being solid on those other three events and he can do what the team needs."

Dalton said he would spend Saturday night grabbing some dinner with family and trying not to pace the floor in his hotel room all night.

"It's not up to me now," Dalton said. "I did my work."

And nice work it was.

Michelle Smith

Contributor, espnW.com