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One-on-One with Jake Clark

Andrew Hipps

10/19/2010
Andrew Hipps, InterMat Senior Editor
andrew@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @InterMat

Minnesota native Jake Clark has been one of the nation's top Greco-Roman wrestlers on the senior level for over a decade. Clark, who turned 30 earlier this year, made his second U.S. World Team this year at 84 kg and competed at the 2010 World Championships in Moscow, Russia last month. Now he has his sights on wrestling in the London Olympic Games in 2012.

InterMat recently caught up with Clark and talked to him about the World Championships, this season, training, goals, MMA, and much more.

Jake Clark (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)
Let's start with the World Championships last month in Moscow, Russia. You got off to a fast start, beating the Moldovan and the Greek to advance to the quarterfinals. You were able to score with some offensive attacks and also in par terre. Did you feel as great as you looked in those first two matches?

Clark: I felt amazing in my first two matches. My weight cut went great. I completely changed my approach to warming up, and I was on the attack in my matches. My confidence was there, and I really felt things were coming together at the right time. In my match against the Moldovan, that's how I want to wrestle every time! I believe the first period was slow, but I was able to get in my groove in the second period.

In the quarterfinals, you were paired with Damian Janikowski of Poland, a wrestler you had beaten 3-0, 1-0 at the Pytlasinski International in Poland in late July. What was going through your head as you prepared to wrestle Janikowski again?

Clark: I felt ready for my quarterfinal match and I was definitely excited about having someone I recently beat standing in my way. I don't feel I was overconfident, and I knew he was going to be more well prepared than our match in Poland the month prior.

You ended up losing in two periods to Janikowski, 0-1, 0-2, which ultimately eliminated you from the competition after he lost in the semifinals. What was the difference in that meeting with Janikowski compared to your previous meeting with him?

Clark: In the match with Janikowski I had about three attempts that I didn't finish. He scored on his gut wrench, but if I could have finished my moves the results would've been different. I've seen some photos that were taken of that match and I can't believe I didn't finish on a few of my attempts. Leading up to the Worlds I was really working on this area of my wrestling, but it's something I need to continue to improve on ... and I will.

Jake Clark (Photo/Tony Rotundo, Tech-Fall.com)
How would you describe your overall experience in Moscow, Russia?

Clark: Initially I was upset, as most people are after losing. However, the more I thought about it, the more I was pleased with how I did. It was a great building block for what is to come. I know I am right up there with the top guys in the world, and as long as I continue in the direction I'm heading, I will be on the podium. I didn't bring a medal home, but I definitely brought some experience and confidence for the upcoming season. It's important to live and learn.

Coming into this year, you had wrestled in just two tournaments over the last three years. You have stated that your goal wasn't to make the U.S. World Team this year, but things fell into place. What was your goal heading into the year?

Clark: I had taken a lot of time off from competitive wrestling from the beginning of 2008 to the beginning of 2010. During those years off I was doing more coaching, and working with MMA fighters. Now, in 2010 I found myself back on the mat, ready to compete, and committed like never before. I try to be very realistic with everything, and I know that to be at one hundred percent I need to be on the mat a lot more than I was. I shouldn't expect to be back a few months, and to be right back in the mix of things. Everyone I'm wrestling against has been going at it while I took this time off, and I needed to put the work in as well. In 2010, I was hoping to get back on the mat, stay healthy, and just get the ball rolling for 2012. My goal is 2012, and everything I do from now until then is to prepare for that. While I was warming up for my first match at the Trials I had a conversation with God. I was stretching out and I said, 'God, I am trying to do the right things and understand I haven't put in all the hard work yet. I'm going to, but I still need more time. It would be too much to ask that I win this tournament, so please just give me what I deserve.' I'm a competitor and I wanted to win, but did I truly think I would be on the 2010 World Team? No. I felt great at Worlds, but should I expect to be on the podium with only being back to the mat for six months? Again, my answer is no. Things have happened very quickly and I'm extremely grateful for that. My 2010 season was not only a surprise to the coaches and fans, but for me as well. I feel I'm taking the proper steps, and I'm going to surprise more people in the next few years.

After you made the U.S. World Team this past June, you said that you never fully committed yourself to the sport until this year. You have talked about lifestyle changes you have made this year. What caused you to make these changes?

Clark: I've wrestled my entire life. It's all I've ever done. I sacrificed many things while I was younger, and feel I was very committed at times. However, I feel like I'm putting a puzzle together now. At the World Championships I believe I was at eighty percent of my potential. I'm adding new pieces to this puzzle, and am hoping that by 2012 they all come together to make the best picture ever. It's going to take time, and I definitely need help finding a few pieces, but I am committed to this puzzle and am going to do everything possible to complete it. In the end of 2009, while I was helping to build the sport of wrestling in the Federated States of Micronesia, I had a great chat (on Facebook) with Olympic champion Rulon Gardner. Everything he said made complete sense, and I'm forever in debt for the insight he provided. To have one of our country's greatest wrestlers take the time and help put things into perspective means the world to me. I'm not sure I'm comfortable sharing what was said, as I feel it was between him and I. However, I saved our conversation and go back and look at it every so often as a reminder. Let's just say what he said really hit me upside the head. Not only that, but the timing was right. Not only was I ready for the changes, but I had the support of THE Rulon Gardner!

Jake Clark (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
You started your career with the U.S. Marines and then moved to the U.S. Air Force. You're currently living in Colorado Springs. How is your current training situation?

Clark: I'm currently living at the Olympic Training Center, but am no longer wrestling for the Air Force. I had planned on transferring from the Marines to the Army, but in the midst of doing my paperwork, I was contacted by Air Force wrestling coach and 2008 Olympic coach Rich Estrella. He mentioned that I might want to look into what he can offer, and set me up with the job of heading to Micronesia. I felt the Air Force would be more of a fit for me, and in February of 2010 I joined their wrestling camp in Mountain Home, Idaho. At this time I joined the Air Force Reserves and had put my paperwork in for the Air Force's World Class Athlete Program. I was told that the process would be quick, but here I am over seven months later, and I'm still not accepted into their WCAP. It's been very stressful and I feel there is no light at the end of this tunnel with them. I'm now currently pursuing another avenue in which I'm not able to talk about at the moment. I promise it will soon be public knowledge, though!

You have been wrestling since you were 5 years old and been competing on the senior level for over a decade. Are you enjoying the sport now as much as you ever have?

Clark: I've always enjoyed this sport and am very grateful for all that it has done for me. The people I've met, the friends I've made, and the adventures I've been on. To me, those things are priceless. I like to think I've become a lot wiser than I was 10 years ago. I might be losing my hair, but in return I'm gaining more and more appreciation for our sport. It's crazy for me to think that this is my 25th year of wrestling. Wow!

The 2012 Olympic Games are less than two years away. You have wrestled in three previous U.S. Olympic Team Trials, but have yet to make a U.S. Olympic Team. How much does that drive you?

Clark: I'm definitely driven to make this Olympic Team. I wish things would have worked out earlier, but everything happens for a reason. I've had this dream of representing the U.S. at the Olympics since I was 6 years old, and it's something I want sooooo badly. I am now in a position to live out a childhood dream and am going to do everything in my power to make it happen.

In order to get to where you want to be in 2012, what areas of your wrestling do you feel that you need to improve upon the most?

Jake Clark (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
Clark: I am concentrating on improving every aspect of my wrestling ... on and off the mat. Technically, when I'm on my feet I need to push the pace more. I'm confident that no one can take me down, but I need to make sure I can score on everyone. I am also putting a lot of emphasis on my par terre defense. It's definitely not an easy task, but I am confident in my abilities and potential. I have a plan, and I truly believe in it. Not only that, but I have coaches and mentors I believe in too. It's time!

You turned 30 years old earlier this year. Have you put a timetable on how much longer you plan to compete? Or is it something you will reevaluate after 2012?

Clark: I will compete as long as my body and mind allow me to. I know several people that wish they could still be competing, but due to injuries they can no longer chase their dream. Because of this, I must take advantage of what has been put in front of me, and give it my everything.

You have competed primarily in Greco-Roman throughout your career on the senior level. But last year you competed in freestyle at the Northern Plains Regional and took a period from 2010 U.S. World Team member J.D. Bergman. Do you ever wonder how your career might have turned out if you would have chosen freestyle over Greco-Roman?

Clark: Of course I wonder how things could have worked for me on the freestyle and folkstyle side of things. I honestly believe that if I concentrated solely on freestyle I would be in the mix as well. I've wrestled in a few freestyle tournaments over the last handful of years and have wins over some of the top guys ... Clint Wattenberg and Willie Parks to name a few. I remember in 2004 leading up to the Olympics I had randomly joined a few freestyle practices. At the end of my Greco practice, Cael Sanderson and Kevin Jackson were on the side going over a few things. Kevin asked me if I could go for a little bit with Cael and I agreed. We were doing some live goes and I scored the first takedown. I'm sure Cael and Kevin were a bit surprised, but to be honest, I wasn't. I have always done well with freestyle. However, I've still been considered a "Greco guy." Cael and I wrestled for about four minutes, in which my back was completely worn out three minutes into it. The conditioning and styles are too difficult on the senior level to just jump back and forth like that. If my memory is correct, I had two takedowns to his four. A month or two later he was the Olympic champion.

Greco-Roman is very popular all across the world. However, in the United States, there seems to be less interest in Greco-Roman compared to freestyle and folkstyle. Why do you think that is the case?

Clark: I'm not sure. I can't say I have an honest answer to this. However, I know that in recent years Greco is getting more and more attention here. It could be due to the change in rules and that there is more scoring now. Obviously, with storylines like (Jake) Deitchler in 2008, having wrestlers like (Spenser) Mango and (Harry) Lester, those things definitely help.

Jake Clark, B.J. Penn, Joey Clark
What some people might not know is that you have served as a training partner for UFC fighters B.J. Penn and Kendall Grove. How did those opportunities come about? And what have your experiences training with UFC fighters been like?

Clark: I've actually worked with a wide variety of well-known fighters, including B.J. Penn, Kendall Grove, Rashad Evans, Nate Marquardt, Mo Lawal, Bobby Lashley, Brett Rogers, Joe Warren, and many others. Just last week I had an offer to go back to Hawaii and work with B.J. before his upcoming fight with Matt Hughes in November. My coaches here at the OTC are against me doing this, but it's a great chance to make some money and network for the future. My brother has been a training partner for B.J. for around seven years or so, and that's how I got linked up with B.J. My first time working with him was only supposed to be for three weeks, but when it was time to leave, they asked if I could stay longer. I ended up staying for three months, which led to my working with Kendall Grove. After I left Hawaii, about two weeks later, I got a call from Kendall and he wanted me to help him train in Maui. I ended up staying there for a month and a half. I'm so honored to have these guys calling me. But not only that, I get paid, and get to do so in Hawaii!

Your older brother, Joey, has been a successful MMA fighter. Wrestlers, specifically Greco-Roman wrestlers, have done very well in MMA. Obviously your focus is on wrestling right now and making the U.S. Olympic Team, but would you ever consider competing in MMA?

Clark: Of course I've thought about it, but I'm really not sure if I'd actually go through with it. I've never been in a fight in my entire life. I've never punched anyone, and no one's ever punched me ... thankfully! Haha. There is so much money and fame in this sport, I'd hate to look back when I'm 50 and say, 'I should have done that.' Right now, my priority is the Olympics and I am concentrating on that. On occasion I like to mix my training up and work jiu-jitsu and grappling. It helps change the pace up. If I do decide to become a mixed martial artist, I've done a great job of networking and will be able to learn from some of the greatest fighters around!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Clark: I'd really like to thank my sponsors: Cage Fighter Wrestling, AmbitionTrainingAcademy.com, InterMatWrestle.com, TheGuillotine.com, WrestlingGear.com, KuttingWeight.com, StrombergAuctioneering.com, BlueChipWrestling.com, and DracsPub.com for all of their help and support. With the help of my sponsors, along with my family and friends, we were able to raise enough money to get my mom and brother over to Moscow for the World Championships! I can never thank anyone enough for how much that meant to me. To my fellow wrestlers, PLEASE support those who support us!

On a final note, I've recently put a team of Olympic Training Center wrestlers together and we are currently working on a business plan that has some great potential. I can't wait to go public with this, and am hoping we will be doing so in the very near future. If anything, add me on Facebook and I will keep you posted. Also, feel free to ask me any questions you might have about wrestling or life in general. I like to help whenever I have the chance! Search for "Jake Clark."

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