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Spirit & Sports

Olympics worth their wait

Alec Yoder ’19 has his eyes on a medal as a member of the U.S. men’s gymnastics team headed for Toyko — and whatever lies beyond.

OSU men's gymnast on the pommel horse

Alec Yoder loves the pommel horse, because “once you’re circling and swinging, you get into a rhythm that’s almost like dancing.” Photo by USA Gymnastics: John Cheng

All elite athletes endure their share of adversity on the way to the podium, and Olympian Alec Yoder ’19 is no exception. But those challenges were a distant memory when Yoder was announced as the specialist joining four others on the U.S. men’s gymnastics team that will compete in the Tokyo games July 23–Aug. 8.

Yoder earned his spot as the specialist on Team USA by recording scores of 15.05 and 14.550 on the pommel horse at the Olympic Trials June 24 and 26, respectively. He will join Brody Malone, who won the all-around competition; Yul Moldauer, who was second in all-around; and Shane Wiskus and Sam Mikulak, who were named to the team by the selection committee.

“I’m over the moon,” he says. “My goal is an Olympic medal. I’m very excited to have made the Olympic team. It’s just insane.”

The road to Tokyo hasn’t been easy. As a standout freshman on the Ohio State men’s gymnastics team in 2016, Yoder tore a portion of his right shoulder cartilage and bicep at the Big Ten championships. Against the laws of physics, he made a successful showing at the NCAA championships only two weeks later.

Four years later, Yoder was a new graduate struggling to transition from a boisterous team environment to the more solitary life of training for the Olympics. “I pride myself in being highly team-oriented,” he explains, “so it took time to get used to a completely different vibe. I missed having 20 teammates to hype each other up before competition.”

After successfully weathering injury and that tough migration to a different style of preparation, Yoder’s path to the Olympics looked straightforward and uncomplicated. He never imagined having to wait an extra year to compete in Tokyo. Suddenly, a train that was barreling full steam ahead came to a grinding halt.

The overnight flip from normalcy to lockdown was jarring. For years, he had operated in training mode. In high school, the Indianapolis native missed out on school dances and football games to train at least 40 hours a week. He signed up for more of the same at Ohio State in an effort to maximize his competitive potential. “I wanted to surround myself with the best in order to be the best,” he says.

Over the course of four years, he and his teammates accumulated an impressive collection of rings and medals. Yoder for his part, helped his team to two Big Ten championships and ended his collegiate career as a 10-time All-American.

What he never learned, he says, was how to thrive outside a highly structured environment. “I like to do the same thing every day, but when COVID hit, I was sleeping in and eating whatever I wanted,” he says. For most of 2020, he was forced to train in isolation from his support system at Ohio State — away from the familiar team of trainers and the state-of-the-art gymnastics facility he had previously taken for granted.

After the pandemic interrupted so many of the familiar rhythms of daily life, postponement of the 2020 Olympics came as no surprise to Yoder. While initially disappointed, he resolved to persevere. “In any situation in life, you can dwell on the positives or negatives,” he says. “I choose to dwell on the positives and look at this time as another year to get stronger.”

Yoder soon returned to his typical routine: an hour of pre-practice warmup in the form of stretching, massage and rehabilitation exercises; three hours of gymnastics training; additional conditioning and strength training; and more stretching and muscle therapy to end the day. He relied on the support of his personal coach, Cas Suarez, and his network of close friends and family in Columbus and Indianapolis to stay calm and focused in an environment of uncertainty.

When he wasn’t in the gym, the aspiring photographer and videographer invested time in producing videos for Ohio State’s men’s gymnastics team. After retiring from gymnastics, Yoder dreams of moving out West and pursuing a career in adventure photography or as a content creator in the sporting world.

That will wait, though, as Yoder looks ahead to Tokyo and “competing on the biggest stage in the world at the Olympic Games. What was once a pipe dream is right in front of me.”

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