LONDON -- When Danell Leyva dismounted from the pommel horse like a bow-legged cowboy instead of a graceful gymnast, his chances of winning a medal in his first Olympics seemed to have hit the mat with a thud.
But Leyva didnt panic. He knew his two strongest events were yet to come in Wednesdays all-around competition. He began methodically scaling the leader board with each routine, from 17th place to 11th to sixth.
As Leyva hooded his head with his lucky towel to prevent himself from looking at the standings and doing the math on his deficit, his stepfather and coach, Yin Alvarez, paced the floor like a caged lion. Alvarez kept telling Leyva to relax, yet behind him he was constantly making the sign of the cross, scratching his beard, calculating hundredths of points.
Alvarez, a former gymnast for Cuba, and Leyva, who grew up the son of exiles in Miami, were finally under the biggest big top of them all at the London Games and despite the dim outlook, they werent going to change their special symbiosis the hyperactive Alvarez strutting and fretting like a Shakespearean actor, and the fiercely focused Leyva performing his acrobatic skills with flair.
As the worlds best 24 gymnasts vaulted and spun and swiveled on six apparatuses, it all built to a climax for Leyva and Alvarez. Everything the defection 20 years ago, starting from scratch in Little Havana, building a gym, training until the hands bled, holding fast to a vision was coming down to the last routine.
Leyva nailed it. On horizontal bar, his favorite and most spectacular event, he wowed the crowd and the judges with his high-flying, high-risk show to earn the top score of the evening, a 15.700.
After Leyva landed with a tiny hop, he slapped his palms together, emitting a puff of chalk. As he punched the air and Alvarez jumped up and down like a human pogo stick, the scoreboard confirmed that Leyva had snatched the bronze medal, the first medal for the U.S. in mens all-around since Paul Hamm won in 2004. Leyva lifted Alvarez in a bear hug.
Leyva, 20, who lives in Homestead and trains at his familys Universal Gymnastics gym in West Kendall, scored 90.698 points to bump Ukraines Mykola Kuksenkov to fourth. Leyva scored highest on his last three events, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar, also known as high bar. His best score of 15.833 was on P bars, where he completed his intricate combinations and one and a half giant Diamodov maneuver without a mistake, unlike the last three times he did it.
No one was good enough to displace three-time world champion Kohei Uchimura of Japan. The 5-3, mod-looking Uchi executed with airy precision to win gold. He was the only gymnast to score at least 15 points on each apparatus and his total of 92.690 beat Germanys Marcel Nguyen by a substantial 1.659 margin.
If I could speak Japanese, I would tell Uchimura he is the greatest gymnast who has ever lived for now, Leyva said, smiling.
Going into his finale, Leyva was .633 out of third place. Alvarez kissed him on the head, ran his fingers over his stepsons ears and clapped.
Vamos! he said, before lifting Leyva onto the 9-foot-tall bar.
Leyva soared through a flawless routine, adding his usual dramatic touches to tricks with a 7.2-degree of difficulty throwing his arms out like a hawk on one of his four releases, switching grips on his dislocate jam, and adding a twist to his Tchakev.