Four of South Florida’s Olympians returned home from Rio de Janeiro on the same flight Wednesday and received a heroes’ welcome at Miami International Airport.
The first priority of gymnast Danell Leyva, rower Robin Prendes and judokas Nick Delpopolo and Angelica Delgado after a grueling year, the adrenaline rush of Rio and an overnight trip: Sleep.
“One thing I’m really craving is my mom’s Cuban food,” Prendes said.
Dressed in Team USA gear, the athletes posed for photos, signed autographs and embraced relatives as they wearily made their way down G concourse.
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Leyva wore the two silver medals he won on parallel bars and horizontal bar within a span of two hours on the final day of gymnastics competition. He will add those to his collection, which includes a bronze in all-around at the 2012 London Games.
“An incredible experience,” Leyva said of his second Olympics. “Rio has a lot in common with Miami. It felt like my second home.”
Homestead’s Levya was mobbed by kids from Universal Gymnastics, his parents’ gym in west Miami-Dade. They were carrying balloons, signs and flags and started chanting “USA! USA!” when Leyva walked into the terminal. He delivered a group hug and put his medals around different necks.
“Heavy, aren’t they?” he said.
Gymnasts and parents were wearing Universal T-shirts printed with coach Yin Alvarez’s favorite expression: “Yessoo!”
“Never a doubt,” said Alvarez, Leyva’s stepfather and coach who had indeed guaranteed that Leyva would win medals. Leyva overcame bite wounds to his legs and hands sustained when he broke up a fight between his American bulldogs, then being controversially left off the U.S. team until another gymnast was injured, then a fall off the horizontal bar in team competition.
“It’s been a hard year for us, and we need to sit down,” Alvarez said. “But we had a plan and we’re very happy we did it.”
Prendes, a Coral Park High and Princeton graduate, praised Rio and said a highlight was witnessing Usain Bolt win the 200 meters. Prendes finished 10th in the lightweight four boat. For the U.S., the women’s eight won gold and Gevvie Stone won silver in single sculls at Rio’s lagoon.
“We were a little disappointed, as were the men overall, because we placed eighth in 2012, but the women’s eight won their third straight gold,” said Prendes, 27, who is looking for a business consulting job. “I’m getting a little old to do another Olympics.”
Delpopolo, who trains at Budokan Judo School in Hialeah, beat a sixth-ranked athlete, then lost in the quarters to an Israeli ranked No. 3.
“I hung with the best in the world,” he said. “I think I’ll do four more years and my only satisfaction will be winning a medal.”
Delpopolo, who returns to an Olympics-sponsored job at Dick’s Sporting Goods, enjoyed attending track and field and meeting tennis stars at the Athletes Village.
First-time Olympian Delgado, eliminated in the first round by a Mongolian athlete, did some sightseeing and got to know Leyva.
“We’re both Cuban-Americans and our dads taught us our sports,” said Delgado, a Ferguson High grad who won’t get much R&R as she prepares for a competition in Croatia next month.