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|Fun-loving Jacob Clark starting to live up to the 'talent and potential' he has on the mat|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - He calls it The Jake Clark Experience.
It includes messages Clark has posted on the Web site of The Guillotine, a Minnesota-based wrestling publication, during training camps and overseas trips.
The stories and tales of South Saint Paul, Minn., native Jacob Clark's travels are well-documented. And nothing short of entertaining.
There was the time at the Pan Ams in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when Clark bought a couple of pineapples while walking down the street. He brought the pineapples back to his hotel room and had them sitting out while rooming with past World Champion Dremiel Byers.
"Our room smelled all fruity and nice, and helped improve the smell with all the dirty clothes in there," Clark said. "It was the night before weigh-ins and when I came back in the room I noticed one of the pineapples was missing. Byers couldn't stand it anymore because it smelled so good and he was hungry. He ripped the top of the pineapple off with his bare hands, stuck his fingers in it, ripped the chunks out of it and just devoured it."
Clark relayed another story when asked to reveal something people maybe don't know about him.
"I am one of the greatest Madden NFL players ever on PlayStation," he said with a laugh. "My brother, Joey, and I were so addicted to it that I would have to play in a dark room with sunglasses on because my eyes hurt so badly. Joey and I used to literally play all night long and would do it in shifts. I would play and he would sleep, and then once my game was over, I would sleep and he would play. That was about three years ago. We did that for 10 months straight."
Anybody who knows Jacob Clark knows he's a great storyteller, he has a zest for life and he's one of the colorful characters in a sport often fighting a battle to gain exposure and recognition.
The 26-year-old Clark is more than just an outgoing, fun-loving personality. He's a heck of a wrestler. Stuck behind three-time World Team member and 2004 Olympian Brad Vering, Clark enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2006 by making his first World Team.
Clark will compete at 84 kg/185 pounds in Greco-Roman wrestling at the World Championships in Guangzhou, China. The event runs from Sept. 25-Oct. 1. Clark is scheduled to compete on Sept. 26.
"Jacob Clark has had a great season thus far," said Steve Fraser, USA Wrestling's National Greco-Roman coach. "He is very talented and tough. The key for him in China will be to wrestle smart with great explosion. He can surprise some foreigners who have yet to see too much of him."
Clark, who is stationed in Okinawa, Japan, as a member of the U.S. Marines Corps, defeated Vering in the finals of the U.S. Nationals in April. He then downed Aaron Sieracki in a hard-fought finals match at the U.S. World Team Trials in late May in Sioux City, Iowa.
"I would obviously love to medal at the World Championships," Clark said. "It's horrible to say, but I'm already happy with my year. My goal for this year was to be No. 1 (in the U.S.). But I can't be happy with that. Now I need to set some higher goals. I think I have the potential to win a medal. As long as I keep my head on straight and train the way I need to, I definitely think I can step in at the Worlds and turn some heads.
"I don't think I have much pressure on me and not much is expected from me by the wrestling world. I'm going in as the underdog, but I've wrestled with some of the people considered the best in the world and gone toe-to-toe with them and done fairly well. I want to make a little name for myself over there and do well on the World stage."
What was the difference for Clark this season after he finished second at the 2004 Olympic Trials and 2005 World Team Trials?
"I definitely rededicated myself with my training and my lifestyle," he said. "I am eating real healthy and had a real good diet. I am a lot more serious about my training. People keep telling me 'Well, you're young' and I kind of held onto it. But I'm not that young anymore. I didn't want people to say 'What if' about me anymore. It's time to step up."
Clark has long been labeled as a wrestler with "talent and potential."
"I have gotten really far on just my talent alone," he said. "But I also have been wrestling every day since I was 5 years old. I also have worked very hard to get where I am. My talent has taken me a long way, but I knew I needed to work harder to be the No. 1 guy."
Clark and his older brother, Joey, 30, a former wrestler who now competes in mixed martial arts, were raised by their mother, Tami, in South Saint Paul.
"My dad was never around - my parents were divorced when I was real young," he said. "We didn't have a lot of money, but if me or my brother ever needed anything for wrestling she would make it work. My mom's the worst driver in the world, yet she would drive us all over the place to go to tournaments. It wasn't just that. There were a million more things she did to sacrifice for us - she's amazing.
"I can't even begin to say how grateful I am for what my mom has done for me. A million thank-yous wouldn't be enough. I give all my awards and plaques to her - that's the only way I can try to pay her back. I'm on the World Team because of my mom and my brother. Their support has been amazing."
Winning the World Team Trials in Sioux City - with his mother and brother in attendance - was special for Clark.
"It was great having them there," he said. "For me to win something that we've all kind of dreamed about was pretty exciting. They were more excited than I was and that was cool because they always told me I could do it. It was great."
Even though he made his first World Team, Clark said his mother still put him to work on a recent trip home.
"I flew back to watch my brother do ultimate fighting and she asked me to come over and mow the lawn," Jake said with a laugh. "And then when I got over there she gave me a list of other chores to do. I moved wheelbarrows full of dirt and I had calluses on my hands. I'm not sure why she had me doing that. Maybe she's trying to get me ready for the World Championships."
His brother's influence also has paid off.
"He's doing really well as an ultimate fighter and he's beating up on some decent people," Jake said. "Joey fought in this King of the Cage event and he's a wild son of a gun. He has the lungs I wish I would've had. He's always in shape and he's just a goer and doesn't wear down. He inspires me and he's done a lot for my career."
It's been an enjoyable summer for Clark. He coached a small group of wrestlers from Okinawa, Japan, who competed at the Cadet and Junior Nationals in July in Fargo, N.D. One of his wrestlers, Max Huntley, became an All-American by placing seventh in Cadet Nationals in freestyle at 171 pounds. Huntley became Team Okinawa's first All-American in Fargo.
The team from Okinawa competed at the Cadet and Junior Nationals for the last two years. The team consists of American citizens who have followed parents in the U.S. military to Okinawa where they are stationed.
"I get more excited being in another kid's corner than I do being out there for my match," Clark said. "Seeing a kid I'm coaching do well is fulfilling. It was an awesome feeling to see my kids do even better than I expected they would. We had an All-American and it was awesome to be in his corner."
Clark designed the Okinawa team's colorful equipment, including shirts with Japanese language "Okinawa" inside a sun.
"I designed the uniforms when I was in Okinawa," he said. "I started to draw and doodle when I had some free time at work. I made up a logo and a design, and put it on some singlets and shirts. I just tried to have some fun with it and tried to come up with something cool."
Clark's training partner in China will be Chas Betts (St. Michael, Minn./USOEC/Minnesota Storm), who won a silver medal at 84 kg/185 lbs. this year at the World University Championships.
"Chas is a young, up-and-coming kid who has been at the University Worlds and Junior Worlds," Clark said. "He's definitely somebody who deserves to go, somebody I'm comfortable with and a guy who will help me. Chas has a chance to be in my shoes in a couple years. I just told him, 'Don't go too quick and wait until I retire.'"
A die-hard Minnesota Vikings fan, Clark and a buddy were decked out in purple-and-gold shirts and ties at Washington's FedEx Field as they attended the Monday Night Football season opener on Sept. 11. He drove from the U.S. Marines Corps base in nearby Quantico, Va., to see the Vikings knock off the Washington Redskins.
Clark and the Greco-Roman World Team are scheduled to leave for China on Thursday, Sept. 14.
"It's almost too long of a break between the Trials and the World Championships, where it's easy to lose focus," he said. "But with the Worlds being right around the corner now, the excitement level is really there. I'm ready to go."
ACCORDING TO JAKE
Q and A with Jacob Clark
Any superstitions or rituals you have before competing: I tape my shoes a certain way. A lot of people wrap tape around their whole shoe, but I don't. The shoes I have - the ASICS Fuerte - has a tongue that hides the laces and covers them so you don't have to tape them. I cut the tongue off mine because I like to tape the laces. I tape them in a bunched-up ball and don't go all the way around the shoes. The way I tape them is nice and neat.
Favorite movie: "Pay It Forward" with Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment. I'm not going to say I cry when I watch it, but I get choked up. I might sniffle a little bit, but I'm a wrestler. I'm not supposed to cry.
Favorite food when you're not cutting weight: Mashed potato bowls from KFC. And a Whopper Junior with cheese, no pickle, no onion, and since it's Burger King and you can have it your way, I have them put BBQ sauce and onion rings on it. Those are my two favorite things. And, of course, I have both with a Diet Coke.
Coolest place you've traveled to: Coolest place to visit for me has been Havana, Cuba, and St. Petersburg, Russia. Very unique and interesting. My favorite place in the world is Minnesota. Growing up there it doesn't get any better - good people and you experience all the seasons. Every time I'm up there it's hard to leave - all my family and friends are still up there.
What's in your iPod right now: I just got a new one and the first CD I put on was the new Goo Goo Dolls. That's my favorite band. It's the "Let Love In" CD.
Favorite sport (other than wrestling): I like to watch the NFL. It's the Vikings - it has to be when you grow up in Minnesota. I won't say I hate the Packers, because hate's a strong word. Let's just say I'm a big fan of the Vikings.
Favorite athlete to watch in another sport: (Atlanta Falcons running back) Warrick Dunn is a really inspiring person, and not just because of the football. I saw on "Outside The Lines" on ESPN where he has a real good story. He's from a single-parent family just like I am, and he gives back to his community. I really like his story. I wrote on a piece of paper and put up in my locker, 'What have you 'Dunn' today?' because of how good a person he is. He has the Warrick Dunn Foundation where he gives fully-furnished homes to single-parent families.
Best piece of advice you've received: Hard to say just one thing. Every bit of advice from people who have supported me has meant so much - from my family, my friends and my coaches.
Best moment as a wrestler: My Cadet National championship felt bigger than anything else because that was the first time I got my name out there. It was the best feeling I ever had at a match because it was my first national title. It was the first time I did something big like that.
Best part about growing up in Minnesota: I had a bunch of legends living up there. Training under Dan Chandler, the best coach in the country, as a kid was great. He was right down the street from me. It was amazing. He taught me so much. There is so much support for the sport up there and I definitely benefited from that.
Any dogs or cats: No pets. I move around too much to take care of one.
Any idea what you'll do after your competitive career is over: I want to get into coaching. I enjoy it so much. I like coaching high school kids. They either seem to make it or break it at that age. I would like to see if I can take them to the next level. I would love to end up back in Minnesota as a coach.
Thoughts on the new rules for Greco-Roman: I do like the rules - I guess I have to because I'm No. 1 now. Honestly, I just like to wrestle. Whatever rules you put in, I will adapt. I am a Marine and a wrestler, and I adapt to new things all the time.
What will you do to occupy your time on the long flight over to China: I have one of the most well-traveled pillows in the world. I'm 26 years old and I carry a little pillow with me like a little kid. I get a window seat and I can sleep the whole flight. I might wake up for dinner though, depending on what kind of food they are serving.