Current/former Illini gymnasts take Olympic postponement in stride

Sports

CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — For aspiring Olympic athletes, taking a week off can be disastrous, and the thought of postponing the games for a year could make the situation even worse.
It’s something Illinois gymnastics head coach Justin Spring knows first hand, after winning a bronze medal with Team USA in 2008.

“When you look at an Olympic hopeful, that’s truly devastating to an Olympic calendar,” Spring said during a FaceTime interview on Tuesday. “Every day is planned out. Every day matters, and everybody just became on an immediate halt.”

“We’re not like any other sport, so if you stop training for two weeks you lose significant skill,” Illinois sophomore gymnast Michael Fletcher said.

“It’s super stressful not being able to train and then prepare for the Olympic trials in two months,”former Illini gymnast Alex Diab said. “It’s frustrating that it did get postponed, but I think that’s in everybody’s best interest.”

Diab has been training for the Olympic Trails in July. The two-time NCAA still rings national champion has already made a name for himself, winning the rings title at the 2019 USA Championships. He will now use the extra year of training to his advantage before competing at next year’s trials.

“I didn’t place as well on other events as I would like to and that’s something I’m focusing on,” Diab said. “I need to get better at if I want to make that jump onto the Olympic team.”

Diab could head to Tokyo in 2021, alongside his former teammate Michael Fletcher, who is getting a second chance. The Illini sophomore tore his ACL at the USA Championships, missing his shot to compete on the national team. Now, the world’s biggest stage is still within reach.

“It gives me a little bit more time to recover,” Fletcher said. “With everything going on I think it would be better for athletes as a community, and get as physically and mentally ready as possible.”

“That postponement is going to give him a shot, whereas otherwise it would almost be impossible,” Spring said. “He might be heavily in the mix now, where he was no where close with his ACL timeline.”

After redshirting this year, Fletcher hopes to lead the Orange and Blue next season. But come summer 2021, the New Hampshire native hopes to represent the Red, White and Blue.

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