Akash Modi is a busy man. And his schedule gets even bigger this weekend. Not that he’s complaining.
Modi, an alternate on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team, is now back at Stanford, where the senior balances his pursuit of a degree in mechanical engineering with his gymnastics duties for the No. 2 Cardinal.
And now, thanks to his second-place finish at the Winter Cup last month, Modi will take a weekend off from the collegiate circuit so he can compete in the AT&T American Cup on Saturday. The competition, which takes place at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, is the first all-around world cup event of the season, and the only one that will take place in the United States.
Modi and Yul Moldauer, the defending NCAA all-around champ from Oklahoma, will represent the United States. They’ll be going up against a talented field that includes Olympic all-around silver medalist and parallel bars champion Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine and team gold medalist Ryohei Kato of Japan.
“I’d say this is pretty much the best all-around field there is besides the world championships and the Olympics,” said Modi, 21, who grew up in New Jersey.
Modi, the 2015 NCAA all-around champ, said he is feeling confident about his routines heading into the American Cup.
“I’ve upgraded a lot of my routines since last year,” Modi said. “I feel good with all my routines I’m doing. The only thing that I’m missing that I had when I was at peak performance at the Olympic Trials (last summer) was that little bit of polish, because we’re still kind of in the middle of our season.”
As far as those balancing priorities? That’s how Modi likes it.
“Honestly, having all that stuff to do keeps me in line because I know I have to do well in all of them,” Modi said. “I’m able to really budget my time very well, which is something I feel I’ve learned, having to do gymnastics 25 hours a week when I was in high school, and who knows how many hours of school now.”
And as for balancing his college gymnastics career with elite gymnastics events such as the American Cup, Modi said the two circuits actually augment each other.
“I’ve been part of the (Stanford) team for three years now, and they all know I’m completely committed to the team,” Modi said. “For collegiate competition, we have a meet almost every weekend, so I kind of use those competitions to ready myself for these big meets, like Winter Cup, the American Cup.”
The ability to balance top-level athletic competition with his Stanford academic commitment is something he had to learn, along with nutrition and the importance of sufficient sleep, he said.
Stanford, which had more than 30 current and former athletes compete in the 2016 Olympic Games — more than any other U.S. university — offers tremendous support for its student-athletes, Modi said.
“One of the best things about Stanford is that I’m given everything I could possibly want to train at the highest level I want to train at,” he said. “But everyone, not just in the athletics department, but everyone at Stanford is amazing that they got into Stanford already, but they’re also doing something else that blows your mind. We have so many Olympic-level athletes, but then there are other people who have created million-dollar startups, everything you could possibly imagine.
“It’s just that level of excellence in everything that people do here that kind of motivates me, at least, to keep getting better academically and athletically. There are just so many opportunities here. Doing gymnastics, I have to give up some of them, but I’ve been able to take advantage of a lot of them.”
Modi, the cousin of 2008 Olympic team bronze medalist Raj Bhavsar, said that although he was disappointed at not making the team for the Rio Games, he learned a great deal from his Olympic experience.
“It was both a blessing and curse,” he said. “Obviously, I was so close and watching the Olympics, I know that I could have been out there and done well. The last 16 years have all that led up to this, and I kind of fell short a little bit.
“But being there, and at least being an alternate and being able to see what’s happening at the Olympics, the level of competition there, it just motivated me that extra bit. I didn’t really know I need that motivation. I took a little break to make sure my body felt good, but I’ve just been ready to go and prove myself for the next four years now.”
As such, Modi’s long-term focus is squarely on the 2020 Olympic Games, and he has mapped out his plan accordingly.
“That is definitely the goal,” he said. “I went to the Olympics and got to see what people did and got to see what I’m missing. Like I said, it’s that lack of polish that I’m missing. Because, especially now, my routines are difficult and, I can always get higher difficulty and make my routines harder, but if I don’t have that execution and the performance aspect to them, I won’t be able to reach the highest level.”
Jim Hoehn is a Seattle-based writer who spent much of his journalism career as a sportswriter for newspapers, magazines and wire services. He also is a former editor at Rugby magazine. Hoehn is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.