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‘Plus-one’ Alec Yoder determined to leave his mark at Olympics

By Taiwo Adeshigbin, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication | July 26, 2021, 11:36 p.m. (ET)

U.S. gymnast Alec Yoder reacts after competing on pommel horse during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

When the four-man team representing the United States in gymnastics was announced, the name “Alec Yoder” (Ohio State, gymnastics) wasn’t among them. Yet he is in Tokyo because a “plus-one” – an athlete competing in just an individual event – also makes the squad.

Don’t think he’s playing second-fiddle to anyone.

“I think a piece of me knew this was going to happen,” he told USA Gymnastics about qualifying for the Olympics. “I put in all the work to make sure this was not just a dream, that this was an opportunity I could physically grasp.”

The dream continues. Yoder, 24, finished fourth in the pommel horse in men’s qualifications Saturday, advancing to Sunday’s finals.

“Yoder has the ability to look at all the details and figure out what is best for him and what he’s trying to do and that relates to his gymnastics,” said Sean Melton, a former Buckeyes teammate and longtime friend. 

"He’s such a detail-oriented guy, never overlooks anything, whether it’s practice or competition." 

That attention mixed with outright determination and hard work is what has helped Yoder stand out.

During his freshman season at OSU, he helped the program win its first Big Ten title despite torn ligaments in his shoulder, Ohio State gymnastics coach Rustam Sharipov said.
Doctors informed the gymnast the injury would require surgery. Yet two weeks before the NCAA championships, Yoder's response was, “No matter what you guys think, I’m going to do all six events for the team," Sharipov recalled. 

He did just that. He competed in all six NCAA events and had the surgery afterward. 

As an eight-time All-American, Yoder helped Ohio State win two Big Ten championships, capping his career in 2019 by winning a national title on pommel horse. 

College has proven to be an ideal feeder system for Team USA gymnastics. It helps that college rules align with international rules, providing a platform on which athletes can thrive, Sharipov said. 

And for Yoder, his love for his college program is evident even after graduating. He helps with training and can be seen taking photographs during Ohio State gymnastic competitions. 

"The joy he gets from seeing the guys happy seeing those pictures makes him feel like he’s still part of the team,” Rastam said. “He really cares about the program, whether he’s competing in college or not.” 

With competition underway, it is clear Yoder is focused. 

“When he starts the event, all eyes are on him, he just has that look and swagger,” Melton said. “I always try to tell him ‘just show them who you are.’”

The swagger came with a lot of preparation.  And Yoder is ready for the moment. 

Regardless of the result, Yoder’s friends will be sending “shaka vibes,” a hand signal the group embraced after a Hawaii vacation. 

“Whenever we’re in our highest of highs and our lowest of lows, we just send out shaka, and we all know that through anything we are always there for each other,” Melton said. 

Yoder has already made his mark in gymnastics, Sharipov said.

Yoder believes he still has more to give.

If I make an Olympic final, I’m not swinging to get fourth,” he told the Indianapolis Star before the Games. “I’m going to swing, and I’m going to swing to be perfect. I’m going to do everything I can to win an Olympic medal. I’m looking for a great routine, not a good one.

“I know I’m on a good trajectory. I feel the best I’ve ever been.”

Taiwo Adeshigbin, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Taiwo Adeshigbin is a journalism student at Arizona State University. This story is part of a collaboration between the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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Alec Yoder