Cuban-American gymnast Danell Leyva sets sights on more Olympic medals
Miami gymnast Danell Leyva will be on the U.S. Olympic team in Rio after all.
He will replace John Orozco, who tore his ACL and meniscus on a horizontal bar dismount during Olympic team training camp.
Leyva, the 2012 Olympic all-around bronze medalist and reigning world silver medalist on high bar, was heartbroken three weeks ago when he was left off the five-man team after the trials. He was named one of three alternates after finishing 10th in combined results from the P&G championships and the trials.
“Although these were not the circumstances in which I wanted to make the team, I can’t wait to represent Team USA in Rio,” Leyva said by phone Friday from Colorado Springs. “I am honored to be named to the team but equally devastated for John. Having seen how hard he fought and battled for his spot makes these circumstances even harder.
“I’ve known John a long time, and his strength and determination motivate me to work as hard as possible to be the best athlete I can be. I know we’ll all do our best to make him proud.”
Leyva, who defected from Cuba as a baby, was the only U.S. male gymnast to win a medal at the London Olympics four years ago.
He followed that with three world championship medals in the past two years: team bronze and parallel bars silver in 2014 and horizontal bar silver in 2015. But a 16th-place finish at P&G championships, the first of two Olympic qualification events, hurt him.
He might have still been feeling the lingering effects of deep dog bites on his hands and left leg, sustained when he tried to break up a fight between his two American Bulldogs.
He looked much stronger at the trials, where he finished third. But the Olympic selection committee considered combined results from both the P&G and trials, which left him in 10th place and off the team.
“To be named an alternate was an incredible honor and difficult position to be in,” Leyva said. “I understood my responsibility and wanted to prove to the selection committee that I had the skill and determination to earn a spot on the team.”
Orozco was expected to excel at pommel horse, high bar and parallel bars. So, in his absence, the committee turned to bar-specialist Leyva, who is coached by his stepfather, Yin Alvarez, at Universal Gymnastics in West Kendall. Alvarez and Leyva’s mother, Maria Gonzalez, were gymnasts on the Cuban national team before defecting to the United States.
Leyva is the most decorated U.S. male gymnast in recent years. He won the 2011 World parallel bars title. Leyva is also a four-time U.S. parallel bars (2010-12, 2014) and three-time horizontal bar (2009, 2011-12) champion.
“It is always difficult to replace an Olympic team member,” said Kevin Mazeika, the national team coordinator for the U.S. men’s national team. “John’s injury is unfortunate and heartbreaking news, but he is handling the situation like the true professional and champion that he is. He’s fully supporting the team and its goals moving ahead.”
The U.S. men’s gymnastics team finished fifth at the London Olympics, and Leyva was the standout. He led all gymnasts in the qualifying round with a score of 91.265 and wound up with the all-around bronze behind Japan’s Kōhei Uchimura and Germany’s Marcel Nyugen.
In the finals, Leyva posted the highest score in the high bar and tied with Uchimura for the best mark in the parallel bars. He placed fourth in the floor routine.
The Rio Olympics open Aug. 5 and run through Aug. 21.