Indianapolis gymnast Alec Yoder aims for Olympics as tribute to late coach
On the day his former coach is being inducted posthumously into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame, Alec Yoder aims to honor his memory by becoming an Olympian.
FIG, the international federation for the sport, made qualifying for Tokyo 2021 so convoluted that the process is changing for Paris 2024. But for Yoder, it comes down to this:
If he is the pommel horse champion Saturday at the Olympic Trials in St. Louis, he can be an Olympian.
Olympic gymnastics teams were cut to four per country (they were once seven). Additional spots can be earned by specialists. Yoder, a former Ohio State gymnast, is one of those, as is Penn State rival Stephen Nedoroscik.
Yoder, 24, of Indianapolis, and Nedoroscik, 22, of Worcester, Mass., have been alternating pommel horse wins since 2017. In the recent national championships, Nedoroscik’s two-event total, 30.20, edged Yoder’s 30.05.
Nedoroscik won NCAA titles in 2017 and 2018. Yoder did so in 2019, beating Nedoroscik. Yoder is a three-time Winter Cup champion, including 2021.
Men’s competition is Thursday and Saturday, women’s Friday and Sunday.
Injury kept Yoder out of the 2016 Olympic Trials, but he made the 2018 world team. He fell off the horse at the 2019 nationals on day 1, then withdrew because of a shoulder injury. At age 17, the Indianapolis gymnast was bronze medalist in the all-around at the 2014 Youth Olympics.
Until college, Yoder was coached by Gene Watson. The coach died April 2, 2020, in Missouri City, Texas. He was 69. He is survived by his wife, Mindy, and children Cameron, Logan, Devin, Rhys, Holly and Rachel.
Watson was influential in men’s gymnastics for nearly 40 years. In a Facebook post, Yoder said his coach taught him to respect others, remain humble and be a role model.
“Gene knew more about the sport of gymnastics than anyone I have ever met. He studied it. He loved it,” Yoder’s post said. “He taught me basics. He taught me how to stick a landing. He taught me how to swing on horse. He taught me how to deliver under pressure.
“Gene lived in the trenches with his gymnasts and showed us the way. He would spend 12 hours minimum in the gym. Gene was an even better mentor and man.”
Yoder wrote his goal was to win an Olympic medal and put it around his coach’s neck.
"I’ll keep training towards that goal, Gene. That’s what you would want," his post said.
Contact IndyStar reporter David Woods at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.
Olympic gymnastics trials TV schedule
Thursday – men, day 1, 6:30-9 p.m., NBCSN
Friday – women, day 1, 7:30-8 p.m., Olympic Channel; 8-10, NBC
Saturday – men, day 2, 3-4 p.m., Olympic Channel; 4-6, NBC
Sunday – women, day 2, 8-8:30 p.m., Olympic Channel; 8:30-11, NBC