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Past World Team member Jake Clark brings new outlook, commitment to mat this season

Jake Clark turns an opponent during the 2006 World Championships in Guangzhou, China. Larry Slater photo.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. " Jake Clark is a wrestler a lot of people have forgotten about.

A member of the 2006 U.S. World Team in Greco-Roman wrestling, Clark hasn’t wrestled overseas since he went undefeated at the 2007 World Cup in Turkey.

Clark has only wrestled in two tournaments " the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials and the 2009 U.S. World Team Trials " in the past three years.

And he is no longer competing for the U.S. Marine Corps.

But Clark is back on the mat with a new outlook, a new focus and a new team. He’s now training in Colorado Springs with the U.S. Air Force squad.

He plans on returning to competition at 84 kg/185 lbs. at the U.S. Open on Friday and Saturday in Cleveland, Ohio.

“I’m excited to get back on the mat and see where I’m at,” Clark said. “I’ve been feeling real good and I’ve been doing well in practices at the Olympic Training Center. I’m hoping it goes well at Nationals this weekend, and then hopefully I will be peaking at the World Team Trials.

“I am really committing myself to being successful over the next two years. I have my sights set on making the 2012 Olympic Team.”

The fun-loving, outgoing Clark has been known for being a talented wrestler whose commitment to the sport wasn’t always where it needed to be.

Clark said he has made some changes he thinks will help him in his Olympic quest.

“I’ve become much more disciplined,” he said. “I’m living a little healthier and I’ve made some changes in my lifestyle. I’m staying away from fast food and I’m not going out every weekend. And I’m more focused on my training. I’m more committed to doing things the right way.”

Giving up the Whopper Juniors with cheese, onion rings and barbeque sauce on it was one of the sacrifices Clark has made.

“Oh man, that was difficult to give those up,” he said. “I’m sure that thing had a couple of calories in it.”

The changes Clark has made have not gone unnoticed by the U.S. National coaches.

"Jake's always had a lot of talent," U.S. Assistant National Coach Momir Petkovic said. "Since he's come back, he's surprised me with his work ethic in practice. He's made some changes. He's working hard, he's wrestling hard, he's listening to the coaches and he's asking a lot of questions. If he continues with this approach, he can be real successful.

"If he makes the World Team, he's definitely capable of winning a medal at the World Championships. He's headed in the right direction. He has great potential for 2012."

A five-month trip to the Federated States of Micronesia was a turning point for Clark. He traveled there last year through the International Olympic Committee to help train the wrestlers there.

“There were no fast food restaurants and no peer pressure to go out and party over there,” Clark said. “I spent five months of island hopping over there in the middle of the Pacific. I got home right before the holidays and I’ve stayed real disciplined since I got home.”

During his time in Micronesia, he also spent considerable time chatting on his computer on Facebook with Olympic and World champion Rulon Gardner.

“Rulon talked about conquering yourself and being more disciplined,” Clark said. “I’ve had a lot of people " coaches, teammates, friends, family " talk to me about that over the years. I don’t know what it was, but Rulon’s talk with me had a pretty big impact. It was inspiring what he had to say.”

The 30-year-old Clark spent nine years with the Marines, and just recently joined the Air Force wrestling program.

“I’m very excited about the direction Coach (Rich) Estrella is taking the Air Force wrestling team,” Clark said. “We’re in the process of building a great team, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Clark, who grew up in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, broke through for a big season in 2006.

He knocked off Brad Vering in the finals of the U.S. Nationals en route to becoming the No. 1 guy on the U.S. ladder in 2006. Vering made every other U.S. World and Olympic Team from 2002 to 2008, and was a World silver medalist in 2007.

Clark was second to Vering at the 2003, 2005 and 2007 World Team Trials, and second to him at the 2004 Olympic Trials. Vering retired after the 2008 Olympic Games.

Clark downed Aaron Sieracki, who upset Vering in the semifinals, in the finals of the 2006 World Team Trials.

Clark placed 12th at the 2006 World Championships in Guangzhou, China.

He lost to Turkey’s Nazmi Avluca in three periods in the first round of the World Championships. Avluca won a World silver medal in 2006, pulling Clark back into the tournament.

Clark beat Olympic silver medalist and World bronze medalist Sandor Bardosi of Hungary in his first match in the Repechage. Clark then lost to World bronze medalist Saman Tahmasebi of Iran and was eliminated from the 2006 Worlds.

“In 2006, that was by far the most committed I’ve been to wrestling. But I still wasn’t the most disciplined guy by any means,” Clark said. “My goals that year were to beat Vering, and win Nationals and win Trials. After I did that, I had to re-set my goals.”

Being the No. 1 guy was an adjustment for Clark.

“It’s not easy being No. 1,” he said. “You have a target on your back and everybody is coming after you. I didn’t know how to deal with it " I didn’t handle it every well.”

After placing second at the 2007 World Team Trials, Clark went 3-2 and fell short of placing at the 2008 Olympic Trials in Las Vegas. He lost to eventual runner-up Aaron Sieracki in the quarterfinals.

Clark competed up a weight class at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. at the 2009 World Team Trials in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He lost to eventual champion R.C. Johnson 1-0, 1-0 in the semifinals. He then lost his next match to Brad Ahearn and was eliminated.

Clark plans to move back down a weight class this year.

“84 kilos is the place where I know I can win internationally,” Clark said. “I’ve never fully committed myself to the sport, and now I’m really started to commit to wrestling like I should. I’m older and I’ve become wiser. If I really commit myself for the next two years, I definitely think I can reach my goals.”

Clark has managed to stay injury-free in his career.

“My body is healthy, and I feel good,” he said. “I just haven’t had very many matches the past few years, and I definitely need to knock some of the rust off. I’m trying to push myself in practice. Some days, I’m exhausted because I haven’t trained that way in a while. I’m confident I’m heading the right direction.”
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