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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.
Despite thousands watching and grading his every flip, spin, and turn, he still executes with ease.
The 2011 national all-around gymnastics champion perfected his polished presentation at Universal Gymnastics in southwest Miami-Dade. It’s a breeding ground for Olympic-level talent including Jessica Gil, who considers Leyva family.
“We're like brother and sister practically, because whenever I couldn't go to a competition, like with my parents, I would always go with Yin and Maria and Dane. So it was like a family,” Gil said.
Family and gymnastics go hand in hand for Leyva, 20, who was born in Cuba. His stepfather, Yin, and mother, Maria, are both former members of Cuba's gymnastics team who defected to the U.S. They settled in South Florida, raising a national championship-winning son with eyes for gold.
“I remember watching these world champions, and national champions, and I remember being so inspired by them so much,” Leyva said.
The world parallel bars champion is competing for a spot at London in the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials.
Leyva finished the first day Thursday in first place with 276.5 points, with John Orozco trailing him by 0.95 points.
Orozco started the day in the lead, with Leyva in second because the results from the national championships a few weeks ago carry over to the trials.
Leyva showed off his strengths on Thursday as he scored the highest scores of the day in both the parallel bars and the high bar.
“He want to be somebody in this sport – he want to be a legend,” said his stepdad, Yin Alvarez. He is now something of a star himself, making headlines with his enthusiasm from the sidelines.
When the two aren't competing, they're back at Universal Gymnastics for training, where Alvarez is also coaching Leyva’s future competitors.
Leyva is widely considered the U.S.'s best shot at winning gold in London for men's gymnastics. Team USA hasn't won the men's gymnastics top prize, the all-around, since Paul Hamm took the gold in Athens in 2004.
Even if Leyva gets his gold medal in London, he says he's bringing it right back to Miami, where his heart is.
“The atmosphere of that whole Cuban flavor, me being from Cuba, this is for me the closest I can get to home,” he said.
The men's trials in San Jose wrap up on Saturday. The two athletes with the top all-around scores from the competition will earn automatic Olympic berths, while the remaining three team members will be announced within a 24-hour period after Saturday's competition ends.