Eric Van Dril
The best high school gymnast in Illinois began his gymnastics career in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, staring up at a rope.
Dalai Jamiyankhuu was 9 1/2 years old at the time. His first taste of gymnastics took place days after a Mongolian gymnastics coach visited his school, in search of athletes who would be well-suited for a sport that wasn't well known in Jamiyankhuu's birth country.
Jamiyankhuu signed up to try out.
The tryout was simple. Jamiyankhuu and other prospective gymnasts visited a gymnasium, where they were asked to climb a rope.
With the gymnastics coach and others looking on, Jamiyankhuu took his first steps as a gymnast.
"I was the fastest one (up the rope)," Jamiyankhuu said. "That's how I got started."
This past weekend, Jamiyankhuu was halfway around the world — in Hinsdale, to be exact — and won his second straight Illinois state championship in the all-around. He also led the Niles West boys gymnastics team to its first state team championship in program history.
In the eight-plus years since Jamiyankhuu climbed that rope in Mongolia, a lot has changed. He moved to the United States in 2007 in the pursuit of a better education and a better life, he said. His parents had already moved to the U.S. Jamiyankhuu has gone from knowing no English to being fluent in it. He is on the verge of graduating from Niles West and poised to enroll at Illinois-Chicago, where he is expected to compete on the Flames gymnastics team.
Jamiyankhuu also has become the best high-school gymnast in Illinois by working tirelessly.
"I started when I was 10, which is actually late for gymnastics. You want to start when you're around 5,"
Jamiyankhuu said. "I was a late bloomer, I would say, but I worked. I go to my club (Lakeshore Academy) and practice gymnastics seven days a week. The only holidays I take off (are) New Year's, Christmas and maybe Thanksgiving. Other than that, I work year-round."
Jamiyankhuu excels on each apparatus, including strength events like pommel horse, still rings, parallel bars and horizontal bar. Part of the reason are the tricks he's learned and done consistently for years, but another is his physical fitness.
"Conditioning is the most important thing," Jamiyankhuu said. "I save 30 minutes at the end of each practice to do strength."
Jamiyankhuu uses his body weight to do a variety of strength-building exercises, including pull-ups and push-ups. At Niles West, he and his teammates worked on strength and conditioning at the end of practices together, including on Saturdays.
"Since it's not a school day, we can stay a little later, so we have fun with the conditioning," Jamiyankhuu said. "We have relay races. You run towards the end of the floor, you do a certain amount of strength skills — like 10 push-ups — and you have to run back and tag your teammate. We try to integrate fun things into our practices, so it's not just boring strength skills."
That is just one way Niles West's gymnasts have benefited from having Jamiyankhuu in their practices over the last four years. He's also provided inspiration.
"It was pretty cool watching him," Niles West senior David Thai said when asked what it was like when he first saw Jamiyankhuu as a freshman. "I was like, 'I want to learn that.' I kind of pushed myself to go towards him."
Thai, who finished fourth in the state on still rings (8.90), added: "Whenever he came to practices, our level stepped up each time. We just kept trying to strive to be better."
Niles West coach Adrian Batista agreed with Thai, but added that Jamiyankhuu might not have reached quite the same level without his teammates cheering for him. The Wolves, including Jamiyankhuu, were loud throughout each one of their meets. They constantly cheered for one another.
"He feeds off of the team," Batista said. "It becomes a great circle of energy. It's back and forth. He can't do it without the team, and the team can't do it without him. If you see him compete without the team, he's great, but he's better with those guys yelling for him."
Jamiyankhuu agreed. Cheering for others helps him get focused and excited, he explained.
"When ... my team pushes me on, all of the pressure goes away," Jamiyankhuu said.
Shortly after Jamiyankhuu repeated as all-around champion on Friday, May 13, he put his first-place medal around his little sister's neck and hugged his father. Moments later, Jamiyankhuu was asked what he'll remember the most about his high school career.
Jamiyankhuu chose three team-based events. Winning a team state championship was high on the list, Jamiyankhuu said.
"I would say all of the cheering," Jamiyankhuu added, "and all of the fun memories I had in practice."
Source: Chicago Tribune