Crowd gathers at MIA to greet local Olympic star gymnast Danell Leyva

Gymnast Danell Leyva arrived Wednesday night at Miami International Airport to a throng of enthusiastic fans and family members.

08/08/2012 5:00 AM

08/09/2012 2:20 PM

Olympic gymnastics medalist Danell Leyva received a hero’s welcome Wednesday night at Miami International Airport as he returned home from the London Games.

Scores of well-wishers carrying signs, whistles, bike horns, and tambourines gathered amid the glaring television camera lights as they awaited the arrival of Leyva’s flight. It reached the gate shortly before 10 p.m.

Among those in the bronze-medal winner’s welcoming throng were both of his grandmothers, who hugged him joyfully when he stepped into the terminal and the crowd erupted in cheers.

“We’re very proud,” said one of his grandmothers, Susana Ruiz, as she waited for the plane. “We were really nervous because he was representing our country as an American and as a Cuban.”

“I’m excited to be home; excited to be back,” said the 20-year-old, Cuban-born Leyva, who lives in Homestead. “This is really overwhelming.”

From his pants pockets, he pulled out his bronze medal and showed it to the well-wishers.

Leyva posed for pictures with strangers who recognized him.

And young gymnasts, many of whom Leyva mentors at his family’s gym in West Kendall, gathered around him in awe.

Leyva’s medal-winning performance has had an impact among the aspiring Olympic hopefuls who train at the gym, Universal Gymnastics in Homestead, some parents said Wednesday night.

Lourdes Cortez, whose daughter is a gymnast, says a new crop of Olympians is now in the making thanks to Leyva’s performance in London. “You can already see that the older kids are excited for the upcoming Olympics. They now know if they work hard they can actually go to the Olympics.”

“He’s inspired me to make a change and work harder than I have been,” said Ani Barrera, 24, who trains with Leyva. “I’m inspired to get to the level that he’s at.”

A week ago, as the world watched, Leyva won his bronze medal in the all-around men’s gymnastics competition — the only American to make it to the podium.

Wednesday night, Leyva said he would continue his quest for a gold medal by training for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.

When Leyva was a toddler, his mother, stepfather and sister fled Cuba for the United States. Coached by his stepfather, Yin Alvarez, he trained for years to make it to the Olympics.

“We’re not done yet,” Alvarez said Wednesday night. “I’m glad there’s room for improvement; next time it’ll be a gold medal.”

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