ST. PAUL, Minn. — Jake Dalton knows how to make a good impression.
Dalton, who won a bronze medal at the American Cup after finding out just an hour before the meet started that he was competing, posted the highest scores on vault and floor exercise at the U.S. gymnastics championships on Wednesday night. He was sixth overall going into Friday night's final.
"I've definitely put my name out there," Dalton said. "I can always do better, and I'm looking forward to doing better on Friday."
Dalton, a junior at Oklahoma, was on the world championship team in 2009, but never competed. He didn't even make the world team last year. But he went to Jacksonville, Fla., in the days before the American Cup, thinking he might have the chance to compete if someone had to withdraw. Day after day passed, however, and no one dropped out.
"I actually went home the night before," said Mark Williams, Dalton's coach at Oklahoma. "I had a meet with my college team that night."
But about an hour before the meet started, Dalton got a call. Someone had pulled out and Dalton was needed.
Instead of being flustered, though, Dalton used the opportunity to shine. He finished third — ahead of reigning world silver medalist Philipp Boy of Germany.
"I think he handled that situation really well. He went out and did his gymnastics," Williams said. "He's starting to realize he's not just competing at our national events, he can actually compete internationally."
And now not only do international judges know his name, they know he can deliver. That's invaluable for any gymnast, particularly with the London Olympics only a year away.
Dalton's best events are floor and vault, and he does each with polish and precision. When he did handstands on floor, his legs were aligned perfectly, his toes were pointed just so. But he showed nice attention to detail on parallel bars and still rings, too.
"It's always important to get in front of as many judges as you can, just to get your name out there," Dalton said. "Judges have seen me and they know what I can do. I'm hoping to go out there, hit my routines and, if we go out to worlds, hopefully I've gotten my name out there more than I have in past years. Hopefully that will help out as much as possible."
PASSING THE TORCH: The countdown is on.
Martha Karolyi turns 70 next year, and said she still intends to retire as women's national team coordinator after the London Olympics. Karolyi has held the job since 2001, overseeing a period of unparalleled success by the U.S. women. The Americans have won 41 world and 14 Olympic medals over the last 10 years, including the 2003 and 2007 world titles. Nastia Liukin and Carly Patterson were the last two Olympic all-around champions while Chellsie Memmel, Shawn Johnson and Bridget Sloan won world titles.
"I'll still get involved, just at a different level," Karolyi said.
Martha and Bela Karolyi's ranch outside of Houston is the national team training center and site of the monthly training camps that have been the foundation for the women's success. The ranch was designated an Olympic Training Center earlier this year by the U.S. Olympic Committee, and the Karolyis have long said it will be their legacy to USA Gymnastics.
Karolyi's successor hasn't been named yet, and she said some coaches have asked if she'd consider sticking around after London. But she's holding firm to her plans, though she'll continue to be a resource for the program.
"I would like to be ready to advise and still lend my experience for the younger generations coming up," she said.
PAGING JOHN OROZCO: If John Orozco doesn't win an all-around medal, he might want to blame the P.A. announcer.
Orozco, a three-time U.S. junior champion, was already well into his pommel horse routine Wednesday night when the P.A. announcer introduced him, calling out his name in the quiet arena. The announcer quickly realized his mistake and trailed off but, sure enough, Orozco dropped off the pommel horse a few seconds later.
His score of 13.95 on pommel horse was a half-point lower than any of his other scores and left him in fourth place overall, 0.20 points behind Steven Legendre going into Friday night's finals.
"I can't say that's what really affected me," Orozco said of hearing his name while he was doing his routine.
But he was bothered by feeling pain in his Achilles' tendon.
Orozco missed last year's nationals after blowing out his Achilles' tendon. While doctors have told him the tendon is fully healed and it isn't at risk of rupturing again, he will continue to feel pain because of scar tissue.
"I let that get in my head and I shouldn't have," he said. "I expected more from myself."
So much so he was still mad well after the meet had ended.
"There are things I feel I should do well and, when I don't, I get really frustrated," he said. "I've been doing this for weeks and weeks, and I make a silly mistake."
ROPES AND MATS: Luke Stannard, Daniel Ribeiro and Ron Ferris withdrew during the meet with injuries. ... Olympic champion Paul Hamm and fellow U.S. Olympians Justin Spring, Kevin Tan, Sean Townsend, Brett McClure and Guard Young are all at the national championships as coaches.