Does U.S. Gymnast Danell Leyva Have The Body For Gymnastics?
U.S. Olympic gymnast Danell Leyva, 20, who contributed to the men's team coming in fifth on Monday when he slipped off the pommel horse, has a heartwarming story about growing up being coached by his stepfather, Yin Alvarez.
Leyva, who left Cuba with his mother when he was a toddler and ended up in Miami after some globe-trotting, entered gymnastics at a young age, encouraged by his gymnast mother, who re-encountered her school friend Alvarez, also a former gymnast for the Cuban national team, in Miami, reports the New York Times. Alvarez supported his love of gymnastics by taking odd jobs in the city, and the young Leyva was hooked.
"I said I want to do that," Leyva said after he saw the high jumps in a gymnastic video Alvarez gave him. "I don't know what it is, but I want to be that."
Alvarez ended up coaching the young Leyva, though it occurred to his mother that the boy's body — long arms, broad backside and flat feet — might not be the ideal shape for gymnastics. She also recognized that Leyva's chronic asthma might get in the way or become a risk.
But Alvarez saw a kindred spirit in Leyva. "I was a dreaming person," he told the Times. "And people that dream, there's no room for them in Cuba, so you feel dead and more dead because you know things aren't going to get better. That's something me and Dani have similar. Even though he's not my real biological kid, we dream the same."
That's part of the reason why Leyva isn't embarrassed when the exaggeratedly exuberant Alvarez shouts things like "That's my boy" and "You're the best, baby!" from the aisle when Leyva is about to perform.
"Everybody thinks it's an embarrassment because he acts so crazy, but it's actually a big help," Leyva said of his coach. "I love hearing him. I love his energy and passion. I feed off of it. It definitely makes me better." Notably, Alvarez was not present when Leyva slipped on Monday and the U.S. team came in fifth in the Olympic event.
Leyva has another chance to prove himself today in the all-around event.
For more on Leyva and the 2012 London Olympics: