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Elgin gymnasts flip over visiting Olympian

Olympic gymnast Jake Daltgets high-five from Chloe JohnstElgduring meet-and-greet event Saturday Spring Hill Gymnastics Elgin. 12/22/12. | ErSauder~For Sun-Times Media

Olympic gymnast Jake Dalton gets a high-five from Chloe Johnston of Elgin during the meet-and-greet event Saturday at Spring Hill Gymnastics in Elgin. 12/22/12. | Erin Sauder~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 24, 2013 6:47AM

ELGIN — For gymnast Jake Dalton, the path that led him to representing the United States in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London began years ago in Little League baseball.

“My coach said I should start gymnastics to help my pitching arm,” said Dalton, who was at Spring Hill Gymnastics in Elgin Saturday for a meet-and-greet event.

“So I started gymnastics, and I eventually stuck with it,” he said. “I had to choose, and I liked gymnastics better because I could learn something new every day. I get bored pretty easily, and with gymnastics there’s always a new skill or routine or being able to advance to a higher level. It’s something that kept me in the sport so long.”

He was 6 when he started competing. Now 15 years later, he is a member of the University of Oklahoma gymnastics team and the U.S. National Team. While the U.S. men’s team did not medal during the Summer Olympics, Dalton concluded his 2012 Olympic performance with a fifth-place finish in the floor exercise final.

During Saturday’s event, young area gymnasts eagerly waited in line for his autograph and a chance to have their pictures taken with him.

Talent vs. work

The kids were also given an opportunity to ask Dalton questions, which ranged from, “What’s your favorite color?” to “How often do you practice?”

Dalton, who prefers the color blue, said he practices about 30 hours a week.

When asked whether talent or hard work played more of a part in his success, Dalton said he chalks nearly all of it up to hard work.

“Talent can get you places, but I think hard work is something that’s more reliable,” he said. “As I started to get older, I started to learn more and progress more. It started paying off. I got a scholarship to college. I made the world team and eventually the Olympic team. Hard work is important. Talent is good to have, but talent does not outweigh hard work.”

Dalton won the NCAA men’s gymnastics floor and vault titles in 2011 and was the U.S. National Vault champion in 2009 and 2011, the Floor Champion in 2011 and the All-Around Gold medalist of the Winter Cup Challenge in 2011. He was a member of the USA team that won the Bronze medal in the 2011 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Tokyo, Japan.

Mary Joe Roehrig, who owns Spring Hill Gymnastics with her husband, Dale, was happy to have Dalton pay a visit. Dalton is dating Kayla Nowak, the daughter of Donna Nowak, a coach at Spring Hill Gymnastics.

“He’s at their house for Christmas, and we asked if he’d like to come in and he said, ‘Of course I would,’ ” said Roehrig, also a head coach at the facility. “This is a fantastic opportunity for the kids. This is who they look up to. It’s such a good inspiration for them to see, ‘Hey, he’s a normal person. I can do that, too.’ ”

Eat and meet

Some of the young gymnasts were interested in Dalton’s experience at the Olympic Games.

“I had a lot of fun,” he told them. “I was psyched to be in London. The United States is one of the most dominant in the country, if not the most, in the games every year. I got to meet a lot of cool athletes.”

The cafeteria in the Olympic Village proved to be where many of those interactions took place.

“It’s where everybody ate,” Dalton said.

He then had a quiz for the kids.

“Can anybody guess what restaurant they had in Olympic Village for us?”

After a few murmurs from the crowd he told them: “McDonald’s.”

“Surprisingly, we had that in our cafeteria,” Dalton said. “But I didn’t eat there until I was done competing, thankfully.”

Before the question-and-answer session ended, an attendee asked Dalton if he would flex his arm.

“That was my favorite question so far,” joked Mary Joe Roehrig.

Dalton obliged, to the applause of the audience.

He was also asked if he was rich.

“Am I rich?” Dalton said with a laugh. “I wish.”

Elgin residents Josh and Sarah Johnston brought their daughter, Chloe, in to meet Dalton and get his autograph.

Chloe began taking gymnastics at 14 months old.

Now, at 22 months old, “She loves it,” Sarah Johnston said. “She tried soccer, but she likes this much better.”

They were excited to hear about Dalton’s visit.

“We thought it seemed like a fun thing to do,” Josh Johnston said.

Spring Hill Gymnastics is located at 2750 Pinnacle Drive in Elgin.

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