Passing the Torch: Jake Dalton and Steve Legendre- Part II
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By Susan Williams
INSIDE: You excel on the same events, do you think you also compete similarly? Do you have the same mental strengths?
LEGENDRE: Jake and I always joke around and say we are the same person. [Laughs] I don’t know if that’s weird or not. It just seems like every day we find more things about us that are the same.
In terms of differences, I think Jake may be a bit more of a natural talent and have a little bit more trust in what he can do, than I do. I tend to over-think things a bit. If I haven’t done a million routines, I don’t feel 100 percent confident. Not that I think that’s a bad thing. It makes me do a little bit extra every day in the gym and since Jake is always right there doing what I’m doing, it’s probably good for both of us.
DALTON: I’m glad that it doesn’t show, but I do second-guess myself [laughs]. I guess Steve doesn’t know how much I lean on him. In the gym, if I’m getting nervous, I kind of check and see how he’s feeling. If he’s confident, it’s like, ‘Good, we are ready to go.’ That helps me a lot.
Steve is so [precise] and detail-oriented. Where I might do a routine and think, ‘Yeah, that was pretty good,’ Steve will do an even better one and say, ‘I need to work on this.’ That pushes me to not be satisfied with ‘pretty good.’
INSIDE: It sounds like sometimes you trust each other’s judgment more than your own. Is that accurate?
DALTON: Yeah, totally. If I mess something up and worry about whether it’s a big deal or not, I always know that Steve can tell me. If it’s serious, he’ll help me fix it, and if it’s no big deal, he’ll tell me just to put it out of my head.
LEGENDRE: Sometimes you get that one skill that isn’t going well for a few days and you start to doubt your ability. It’s nice to be able to listen to someone who knows exactly what that’s like tell you, ‘Just forget about it. Don’t do any more today.’
We know each other so well that, especially when things aren’t going well, it’s sometimes easier to listen to each other, as friends, than it is to listen to Mark, as a coach. Mark can give us corrections or suggestions on how to fix something, but some days you just need to hear someone say, ‘Let it go. You’ll get it next time.’
INSIDE: What’s your response to those who might say that there isn’t room for two athletes with such similar strengths on a five-man Olympic team?
DALTON: I think before [2011 Worlds] people couldn’t see us both on one team, because we did have the same strengths, and some of the same weaknesses as well.
But I think we’ve proven we work well together in a team setting and I think that, even since [Worlds,] we’ve both picked it up on our weaker events. Steve has improved so much on pommel horse, and we’ve both improved on rings.
LEGENDRE: To say we can’t be on the same team is just completely wrong. Maybe at some point that was a valid [concern], and there was even a point, maybe a year or so ago, where I might have kind of agreed with it. But every day in the gym I see it as more and more of a possibility.
I really think it is a definite possibility that the strongest U.S. team includes both Jake and I. I hope at least people have an open mind to that.
DALTON: It’s going to come down to the team that has the highest [total] score with three-up, three-count. I think it would be a mistake to rule us out of being a part of that team, just because we have the same [best] events.
LEGENDRE: Really, it’s up to us to go out and prove [wrong] anyone that thinks we can’t be on the same team. It’s all going to be about us going out and showing at USAs and Trials what I know we can do every day in the gym.
Unless you have five [Kohei] Uchimura’s on your team, you’re never going to have the best three [on every event for team finals]. There’s always going to be one event that’s weaker than you hope, and you just have to balance it as best you can. …Whoever makes it, I think we are going to have a very strong team in London.
INSIDE: Have you talked about what could happen if one of you makes the team and not the other? Or, is it bad luck to even think that way?
DALTON: Oh yeah, we’ve talked.
LEGENDRE: We talk about it all the time.
DALTON: I think everyone is always trying to figure out who’s the best, who’s making the team. We’ve done it. We’ve come up with teams where one of us is on it; both of us are on it. Sometimes we just talk about it in terms of, ‘say one of us makes it,’ and we don’t necessarily say either one.
LEGENDRE: [Laughing] We are even interchangeable in our own conversations.
INSIDE: Does it change your friendship if one makes it and the other doesn’t?
DALTON: Yeah, I’m gonna hate him [laughs].
LEGENDRE: I don’t think it changes anything. Jake and I have said that if one of us makes it and the other one doesn’t, we each have to buy something really nice for the other person. If I make it and Jake doesn’t, I have to supercharge his car. I can’t remember what the agreement was vice versa.
DALTON: [Laughs] If I make it and Steve doesn’t, I’m going to supercharge my car and let him ride in it.
INSIDE: So you also share a car obsession?
LEGENDRE: Cars. Bikes. Anything that goes fast.
INSIDE: And what things that ‘go fast’ do you have?
LEGENDRE: A 2008 Corvette. Two bikes: a dirt bike and a street bike—a Triumph Daytona 675.
DALTON: I’ve got a 2007 Subaru Impresza and an ’08 Honda CVR.
INSIDE: How high-stakes does this summer feel for you? You are both relatively young—Steve, you just turned 23 and, Jake, you won’t even be 21 until after the Games conclude—are either of you able to look past London? Does it feel like your Olympic dream lives on, no matter what happens this time around?
DALTON: That’s hard to say. I mean, it’s always on your mind and you’ve dedicated your entire life in gymnastics towards this moment, so it’s definitely a big part of your life—but it’s not your entire life.
If I focus on it too much, it freaks me out. It’s been a dream and a goal since I was a little kid to go and compete at the Olympics for the U.S., but if you don’t make it, life isn’t over.
I have a good life waiting for me here, either way. I’ve got an awesome team waiting for me here at OU. I’ll still be training with Steve. This isn’t it.
I look at it like I’m so thankful for everything already. I’m thankful for my family. My friends. The place I get to go to school. This great gym we train in. The coaches that dedicate their time to us. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t make it.
LEGENDRE: [Laughing] Well, I don’t have a college gymnastics career to come back to, so it’s definitely the end of the world if I don’t make it.
No, seriously, I do still plan to keep training and I feel like I have a lot of room to improve in my gymnastics. I’m not entirely basing everything on these next two months. This isn’t the one and only shot I’ll have to make an Olympic team. There is always a future. If not in 2012, then in 2016.
In reality, it’s just a sport. We’ve dedicated our lives to it, yes, but it’s not what defines us. Our accomplishments aren’t who we are: It’s just something we’ve done.
No matter what happens, it’s been an incredible experience, and I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to be [in the running] for an Olympic spot. I want it to happen, but it’s not going to ruin my life, by any means, if it doesn’t work out.
INSIDE: And you both plan on continuing that Olympic journey here in Oklahoma?
LEGENDRE: Well, we just built a house, so I’m obviously staying in Norman. I made that decision based on the fact that I loved my four years here competing for the college team. I feel comfortable here. I feel happy.
I don’t see any reason not to stay here and keep a good thing going. It’s a good place for Alaina and I to start our life—our adult life—together.
DALTON: Whether or not I end up competing NCAA my senior year, I would love to continue training here, because I know how far it’s brought me.
My relationship with Mark has grown a lot from the point I first got here and we didn’t understand each other. [Laughs] Now—not then, but now—I think he’s a great coach for me, and having Steve here is a big factor, too. I do want to finish school. Even if I’m not on scholarship, I still plan on getting my degree.
INSIDE: Jake, what will make you decide whether or not to return to NCAA competition for your senior season?
DALTON: There are nothing but positives to competing in the NCAA, except that if I were to make the Olympic team, I couldn’t do things [like the post-Olympic tour] and accept money, without giving up my NCAA eligibility. It’s not going to be an easy decision, and it’s good to know that, either way, I will still have a place to train.
It’s weird to think about not coming back. It makes me sad, but there are times in life that you kind of have to look out for yourself, and think about having that [financial] foundation to start my, as Steve says, ‘adult life’ out on. There are not a lot of opportunities like [the tour money] in gymnastics.
INSIDE: Jake, what should people know about Steve that they might not already? And Steve, what should we know about Jake?
LEGENDRE: People should know that while Jake is dealing with the stress and excitement of training for a potential Olympic Games, he’s also dealing with a snake problem under his deck. [Laughs] Which has occupied a great deal of his time and mental capacity, I might add.
Seriously, Jake is a really, really good person. Most people I compete with in the gym every day, I would be upset with them every once in a while, but me and Jake never, ever are upset with each other, even when one is doing way better than the other. That’s pretty cool.
DALTON: Steve is just one of those people that almost wants better for someone else than himself. He’ll help me out in the gym, or tell me something that really helps me fix a skill, and I sometimes almost wonder why, because I know we are competing, not necessarily against each other, but for the same thing.
It could come down to the goal of both our lives, whether we make this Olympic team together or not, and we both know that, but the fact is Steve is still in the gym every day helping me. It’s almost unbelievable.
LEGENDRE: [Laughing] ‘Almost unbelivable.’ That’s me.