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updated: 12/22/2012 5:43 PM

Young gymnasts meet U.S. Olympian Jake Dalton in Elgin

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  • Six-year-old Juan Delgado and his sister Linda Marie Delgado, 18, both of Pingree Grove, get their picture taken with Olympic gymnast Jake Dalton on Saturday at Spring Hill Gymnastics in Elgin.

       Six-year-old Juan Delgado and his sister Linda Marie Delgado, 18, both of Pingree Grove, get their picture taken with Olympic gymnast Jake Dalton on Saturday at Spring Hill Gymnastics in Elgin.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Olympic gymnast Jake Dalton signs an autograph on Saturday for 13-year-old Hailee Michel of Sleepy Hollow at Spring Hill Gymnastics in Elgin.

       Olympic gymnast Jake Dalton signs an autograph on Saturday for 13-year-old Hailee Michel of Sleepy Hollow at Spring Hill Gymnastics in Elgin.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Olympic gymnast Jake Dalton meets young fans Saturday during his appearance at Spring Hill Gymnastics in Elgin.

       Olympic gymnast Jake Dalton meets young fans Saturday during his appearance at Spring Hill Gymnastics in Elgin.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

Eight-year-old Brady Taylor is such a fan of U.S. Olympic gymnast Jake Dalton that on Saturday he attended both of Dalton's appearances in the suburbs.

In the morning, Brady and his mother Kate Taylor of West Dundee went to the Illinois Gymnastics Institute in Westmont; in the afternoon, they were joined by Brady's dad, Brian, at Spring Hill Gymnastics in Elgin.

"(Dalton) is his idol. It's kind of a dream come true for him," Brian Taylor said.

"It's not that easy to find people to mentor him (as a male gymnast)," Kate Taylor said. "It's great for him to be able to have someone to look up to."

Dalton, 21, a senior at the University of Oklahoma, is visiting the Chicago suburbs to spend Christmas with his girlfriend's family.

In Elgin, Dalton talked to his audience -- mostly young female gymnasts -- about the thrill of having competed this summer in the London Olympic Games, where the U.S. men's gymnastics team placed fifth. Dalton tied for fifth on the individual floor exercise.

He loved meeting fellow Olympic athletes like swimmer Michael Phelps and sprinter Tyson Gay, and especially NBA star Tyson Chandler, he said.

He also was surprised to find that the only brand restaurant in the Olympic venue was ... McDonald's. "I didn't eat there until I was done competing, thankfully."

Dalton also answered questions from the audience, including "Do you get nervous competing?" ("Yes, always"), "What's your favorite color?" ("Blue") and "Are you rich?" ("I wish").

Dalton talked about choosing gymnastics over baseball as a young boy, and the importance of working hard and devoting time to conditioning. "Talent can get you places, but I think that hard work is something that is more reliable," he said.

He also told young gymnasts to not be afraid when learning new skills. "You have to trust your coaches, because they are not going to have you do something that you can't do," he said.

One girl asked Dalton to flex his muscles.

"That's my favorite question so far!" quipped Spring Hill Gymnastics owner Mary Joe Roehrig.

After a brief hesitation, Dalton good-naturedly obliged, much to his audience's delight.

Eleven-year-old Mia Coken, of Gilberts, was among dozens who patiently waited in line for autographs and photos with Dalton. "Meeting any Olympic person is great, but to get to meet someone from the sport that you do is the most exciting thing," she said.

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