'I'm excited about it': Glen Ellyn gymnast ready if he gets chance to compete at Olympics

  • Glenbard West graduate Alex Diab won a national championship for the University of Illinois in 2018 and 2019.

    Glenbard West graduate Alex Diab won a national championship for the University of Illinois in 2018 and 2019. Monica Wilner/Illinois Athletics

  • Alex Diab, a two-time national champ at Illinois, is an alternate on the Olympic team and is heading to Japan.

    Alex Diab, a two-time national champ at Illinois, is an alternate on the Olympic team and is heading to Japan. courtesy OF University of Illinois

 
 
Updated 7/14/2021 2:03 PM

Glen Ellyn gymnast Alex Diab had to put his Olympic hopes in the hands of a committee.

The committee voted to send Diab to the Olympics, though not necessarily to compete.

 

Diab, a still rings specialist, did well enough at last month's Olympic Trials in St. Louis to put himself in position to be selected for the gymnastics team's "plus-one" slot for the Tokyo Olympics. Instead, the committee chose pommel horse specialist Alec Yoder from Indianapolis.

Diab, 24, didn't go away empty-handed, though. He earned the consolation prize of being an alternate, part of a second team of gymnasts who will be in Japan in case of injury or illness to someone on the first team. The second group will remain separate from the first due to COVID-19 protocols.

He leaves for Tokyo Thursday.

"I'm excited about it," Diab said. "I had a great meet at the Olympic Trials. Unfortunately, I didn't get chosen for the team, but I'm still happy to be picked as an alternate and get the opportunity to go to Japan and be ready just in case anything happens."

For his father and longtime coach, Mark Diab, the committee's decision was at first difficult to take.

"At that point, it was like, boy, I was feeling joy, sadness, disappointment and pride all at the same time," he said.

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" ... He got to the front door of going to the Olympics, and it was a coin toss. It could have gone either way."

Now, however, it's just pride, except for the disappointment of not being allowed to travel to Japan to see his son compete. No fans will be allowed at Olympic competitions due to the coronavirus.

"I told him, stay ready," Mark said. "There always seems to be somebody that gets injured right before the Olympics. I've seen it in the last three or four Olympics with the gymnastics team."

Part of a gymnastics family, Diab has been trained by his parents since age 2. Mark was a two-time national champion on rings at Iowa State. His mother, Jennifer, competed at Wisconsin. They run Premier Gymnastics Academy in Downers Grove, where Alex, brothers Max and Louie and sisters Maddie and Anna also train or have trained.

"My parents have been a huge part of my development. They've always been there right with me, helping me along the way," Diab said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Mark thinks back to when Alex was 5 or 6 years old, wearing a baggy gymnastics uniform.

"He was so proud to show it off to everybody," Mark said. "He's come a long way."

Diab won a state all-around championship his freshman year at Glenbard West, his only season competing in high school before focusing on national competitions. At the University of Illinois, he won a national championship in rings in 2018 and 2019.

Now he's an Olympian, and this might not be his only shot. He's still young enough and hungry enough to compete for a spot on the 2024 Olympic team. He'll be ready should he get his chance in Tokyo and will be a good teammate if it doesn't.

"Ever since I was a little boy my dream was to compete for the United States and be on an Olympic team," Diab said, "and as I got older I kept having that vision in mind and I kept getting better and better, and now it's a reality and it's pretty cool."

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