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Olympics hopeful Danell Leyva was born in Cuba, where his stepfather, Yin Alvarez, and mother, Maria, were members of Cuba's gymnastics team. Leyva talks about how he was inspired in this short video.
He’s been a national champion, a world champion and now he’s an Olympian. Danell Leyva is going to London.
The Miami gymnast won the men’s Olympic trials last weekend, continuing his meteoric rise to stardom.
“It’s a huge relief to know officially that I’m on the team and it’s a huge weight off of my shoulders,” Leyva admits.
The 20-year-old edged out Bronx native John Orozco by just 1 point after six rotations in San Jose and will headline the five-man American team at the London 2012 Olympics Games.
Leyva’s journey started in the Universal Gymnastics facility in Miami, but almost never got off the ground.
"At first, my mom didn’t want me to be a gymnast because I wasn’t the right condition,” Leyva says. “My arms were too long, my butt was too big, and the biggest thing was that I didn't really pay attention to anything.”
But Leyva nevertheless stuck with it, inspired by his parents. His mother and stepfather were both gymnasts themselves in their native Cuba before defecting. They sparked a passion in him that just kept growing.
"I remember watching national champions and world champions and being like 'wow,' I want to be that. I want to be an Olympic champion so bad. I can't wait. I'm so anxious,” Leyva told NBC6.
Leyva’s stepdad, Yin Alvarez, is tasked with trying to keep that anxiousness under control. He’s not just family, he’s the gym’s owner and Danell’s coach. Of course, Alvarez is known to be a little animated himself.
"I think he's more than a little animated," Leyva says with a grin.
Alvarez simply can’t stand still. He punctuates Leyva’s good routines with a flurry of fist pumps, roars, high-fives and hugs. And that’s on a laid-back day.
"That's my style of coaching. I do that with all my gymnasts. Even the little kids,” Alvarez says.
"People ask me does that distract you? Does that embarass you? And I say no, neither of those because I actually get energy from that and that I'm doing a good job,” says Leyva. "We've always had this great connection and I wouldn't trade it for anything else in the world."
Leyva was born in Cuba, but defected with his mom when he was an infant. They met up with Alvarez in Miami after he had defected to Mexico about a year earlier.
“Danell’s mom was one of the best gymnasts in Cuba and she was a good friend of mine. She came to this country and she looked for a job in gymnastics and somebody told her that I worked in one of the gyms so she called me. And then we fell in love," Alvarez says.
Leyva’s mom, Maria Gonzalez, now coaches with her husband at the Universal gym. She’ll guide Jessica Gill to the Games of the XXX Olympiad representing Colombia.
Meanwhile, father and son are also headed to the world’s biggest stage, and they aren’t shy about their intentions.
"I don't want to be a cocky person but at the same time if you have a goal you always have to see yourself accomplishing that goal, otherwise you're not gonna make it,” says Leyva. "One of my biggest goals since becoming a gymnast was to be an Olympic champion."
"We're sure about it. We visualize everything before it happens. We're dreaming of this for many years and he's going to be an Olympic champion,” Alvarez proudly proclaims.
And to do so as the first Cuban-American gymnast on the Olympic roster is another motivating factor.
“I think that is another reason why I say I am never going to move from Miami just because that atmosphere, that whole Cuban flavor,” Leyva says. “It is the closest I can get to home but at the same time I feel that I can also represent them at the same time by representing the United States.”
Leyva’s strength is on the high bar. He had the highest score during the trials in that exercise. But he’s also the reigning world champion on the parallel bars. Alvarez hopes those skills, combined with the team's performance, can lead to four medals in London.
Leyva quickly corrects that estimate.
“He wants four medals," he says. "I want four golds.”