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Grand Forks gymnast qualifies for men’s nationals

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Jak Urlacher's circle of friends includes athletes who compete in basketball, hockey, football and wrestling. A few have tried to recruit Urlacher to play in their sport.

"A lot of my friends say I should do other sports,'' said the Grand Forks Central High School freshman. "They've said I could be pretty good at basketball.''

Urlacher is happy with his decision to concentrate on gymnastics, however. And he's been very successful in his chosen sport.

Last weekend, Urlacher was runner-up in all-around at the Region 4 level 10 15-year-old division at Des Moines, Iowa. That qualified Urlacher for the age 15-16 division at the USA Gymnastics Men's Junior Olympic National Competition.

The 5-foot-8 Urlacher said at times he's thought about trying other sports. "But gymnastics is such a big-time commitment,'' he said. "I wouldn't be able to work other sports in. I do track, but I only practice twice a week at it.''

That's because Urlacher works at gymnastics three hours a day for five days a week. He also lifts weights twice a week. It is year round. The competitive season generally goes from December through May. As far as practice, “there is no off season,’’ he said.

"There are some days when I do get tired of it. I feel tired. But that doesn't happen too often. I love gymnastics.''

That love traces back to his mother. Angela Harrison-Urlacher is a former gymnast who enrolled her son in gymnastics classes when he was 5 years old. By the time he was seven, Urlacher was in competitive gymnastics.

It was two years ago, however, when Urlacher accelerated his commitment. "I was good at it,'' Urlacher said. "But I decided I wanted to put more work in it. I got better results, and that pushed me to work even harder.''

Last season, Urlacher said he barely missed the qualifying cutoff for level 9 nationals.

"Jak has always had potential,'' said Jack Iiams, his coach at Red River Valley Gymnastics. "But a lot of kids show a knack for the sport. The last few years, Jak figured things out. He's worked hard, he started developing physically and he could tap into that potential.

"Jak's fast. He's strong. He's got good coordination. He could figure out almost any sport and do well.''

At the regional, Urlacher finished first in floor, third on pommel horse, fourth on rings and vault, fifth on high bar and 10th on parallel bars.

"I felt I could do well, but I didn't expect to do so well on the high bars and vault,'' Urlacher said. "Those are usually my weak events.''

But the floor was his biggest surprise. "I had a good routine,'' he said. "But I didn't expect to get first place. That's the first time I've done well in it in a big meet.''

Urlacher may have surprised himself, but he didn't surprise Iiams. "We saw it coming,'' Iiams said. "It's the first time everything fell into place for Jak at a big meet. But we see him doing this in practice every day.''

Iiams said Urlacher is the first North Dakota male athlete to qualify for level 10 nationals in approximately 10 years.

Urlacher has high goals. He'd like to compete in NCAA Division I gymnastics someday. For now, however, he has modest goals for the level 10 USAG nationals, to be held May 9-13 in Oklahoma City.

"This is my first time to nationals,'' Urlacher said. "I don't have any expectations. It doesn't matter what places I get. I'm just glad I made it.''

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