Fans, friends in South Florida cheer Danell Leyva on to bronze

Olympic gymnast Danell Leyva’s supporters gathered at several locations Wednesday to root for their hometown hero.

08/01/2012 5:00 AM

09/08/2014 5:59 PM

The words “individual all-around” competition don’t quite capture Danell Leyva’s bronze-medal performance Wednesday in the Olympics.

Across Miami-Dade County, Leyva’s friends, family members and total strangers squirmed at each of his gravity-defying flips and turns. Multiple watch parties were organized to support Leyva in his quest for Olympic glory.

The first began at ground zero: Universal Gymnastics. Amid the old trophies and enormous Olympic flag hanging on the wall, a crowd of fellow gymnasts, Leyva’s coaches and friends gathered to witness his routines live.

Supporters watched the events via a live stream of the event online and used a projector to blast Leyva’s face across the gym’s wall.

Jeanne Barrera said the group had watched every single broadcast live and then again when the tape-delayed broadcast aired on television. Barrera has known Leyva for 17 years, and trained side by side for eight hours a day. She said Leyva would enjoy all the support from back home.

“He would go nuts,” she said. “He’s all about the sporting and getting everybody together.”

Besides praying, fellow gymnast Edward Mesa said, there was nothing more he or the other fans could do but stare at the broadcast.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking, I’m not going to lie,” Mesa said. “We were all really nervous for him, but it was a really fun experience, obviously, and I’m really proud of him for what he did. It’s an incredible accomplishment.”

At nearby Sergio’s Restaurant in West Kendall, the celebration continued.

When he’s home, Leyva visits the Cuban establishment every Friday night for dinner with his stepfather. Wednesday, the restaurant offered discounted prices on Leyva’s favorite healthy dishes, including avocado salad and Chimi-chicken.

Sergio’s invited the community to cheer on their hometown hero from 6:30 to 9 p.m., hours after the screams from Universal Gymnastics could be heard from the parking lot as Leyva clinched the bronze medal with his horizontal bar routine.

Carlos Gazitua, vice president of Sergio’s, said he wanted to promote Leyva’s efforts in London because Leyva had shown support of Sergio’s by bringing Ryan Seacrest to the restaurant for an interview before the Olympics.

“We wanted to make sure that the community knows how important he is,” Gazitua said. “He represents Miami.”

And representing Leyva at Sergio’s were more members from his gym. Tables overflowed with kids in Universal Gymnastics T-shirts and the catchphrase “Yeessooo” written across their backs.

Ashly Matas, who has known Leyva since he was very young, said everyone at Universal came out to support Leyva on his special night. The group, he said, is tight-knit and constantly supporting each other.

She said his Universal family was spread across two locations Wednesday night. There was another watch party at the Brickell Irish Pub.

“It’s a surreal experience,” Matas said.

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