Alec Yoder: "You're not going to overlook me again"

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 24: Alec Yoder of Team United States reacts after competing on pommel horse during Men's Qualification on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 24, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 24: Alec Yoder of Team United States reacts after competing on pommel horse during Men's Qualification on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 24, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The 24-year-old Team USA gymnast has gone from overlooked to Olympian

This wasn’t a Hollywood blockbuster. As Alec Yoder drove from restaurants to peoples’ homes, working as a Doordash deliveryman, he wasn’t dreaming of the moment he heard his named called at the U.S. Olympic trials in late June or even walking out in Tokyo 2020’s Ariake Gymnastics Centre.

There was no triumphant montage, no dramatic music.

He was, simply, doing it because he had to do it to make ends meet.

“I think I was more envisioning, like man, I cannot believe that I have to be doing this right now… like, this just sucks,” Yoder told Olympics.com in an exclusive interview earlier this month.

At the end of February, despite winning his signature event – the pommel horse – at the Winter Cup, Yoder found himself left off the U.S. national team.

“That the ultimate bulletin board material that I needed,” he said. “You don’t think I’m good enough to make national? Watch me make the Olympic team. There’s not any greater motivation there, and so I think getting overlooked is all the motivation I needed to show that, like, all right, you overlook me for this opportunity? I'm going to leave no doubt in your mind that you're not going to overlook me again.”

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 24: Alec Yoder of Team United States competes on pommel horse during Men's Qualification on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 24, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 24: Alec Yoder of Team United States competes on pommel horse during Men's Qualification on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 24, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
2021 Getty Images

Alec Yoder: My motivation

But the best motivation was terrible on his wallet.

“I went through about a year-and-a-half of making zero dollars a month, zero dollars a year,” Yoder said. “I just blew a hole through my savings account.

I drove Doordash for a while just to make sure that I wasn't completely bleeding my savings account dry, but financially it was really tough,” he continued. “I felt… worthless is not the word. But I felt like just, I'm not an adult. I have to pay all these bills. I’ve got to pay for rent. I got to do all this stuff, and I'm not making a single dollar… what am I doing with my life, you know? But deep in my mind, in my body, I knew that like that I'm doing this for a reason.”

And so in late June, after two hit pommel horse routines at the U.S. trials, Yoder went from overlooked to Olympian.

“In the end, it is what it is and was what it was, but I think no national team to an Olympic team is a great motivator for sure,” he said. “It’s definitely gotten me where I am today.”

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 24: Alec Yoder of Team United States reacts after competing on pommel horse during Men's Qualification on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 24, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 24: Alec Yoder of Team United States reacts after competing on pommel horse during Men's Qualification on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 24, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
2021 Getty Images

That's in Sunday’s (1 August) men’s pommel horse final with a chance at an Olympic medal.

Yoder came to the Olympics only guaranteed to do one routine, pommel horse, in the qualifying round. He delivered and advanced to the pommel horse final in fourth place, ahead of reigning Olympic champion Max Whitlock but behind a talented tied trio (LEE Chih Kai, Rhys McClenaghan and KAYEYAMA Kohei).

His Olympics – as has his entire season – comes down to about 70 seconds, his weight entirely on his hand as he circles the pommel horse.

But the pressure doesn’t faze him.

“I put in the work every day in the gym to make sure that when moments come like that, that I'm ready to go,” said Yoder. “That pressure is crazy for some people, and for some people, it gives life to this opportunity, to this this untapped ability of pure focus, of pure strength, of no matter if I have to stay on that pommel for six and a half minutes, I will have the strength to get through.

“So, in a moment like that, it can be scary. But if you put in the work, then at that point, it's go time.”