Danell Leyva was born on October 30, 1991 in Matanzas, Cuba. His mother came to the United States shortly thereafter and met Leyva's stepfather. The two were both gymnasts who began training their son in the sport. Leyva went on to compete at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, where he won a bronze medal in the individual all-around competition. He returned to Olympic competition at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio where he won two silver medals in the parallel bars and horizontal bar events.
Cuban-American gymnast Danell Johan Leyva was born on October 30, 1991 in Matanzas, Cuba, to father Johan Leyva and mother Maria Gonzalez. Leyva has never met his father, who now lives in Spain. He grew up in Miami, Florida, where his mother and stepfather, Yin Alvarez, opened a gym; both were Cuban defectors who had been members of Cuba's national gymnastics team throughout their adolescence.
Alvarez recognized in Leyva a spark when he was still a toddler, and was suffering from asthma attacks. "[He] saw a boy who loved to please people and sensed he might go to great lengths to do that," according to ESPN.
Leyva's mother feared that he did not have the right type of physique, nor the strength or coordination to become a gymnast, and had no intention of turning him on to the sport, according to Miami New Times. But when Leyva was about 4 years old, he and his stepfather convinced Leyva's mother to allow him to train in the sport.
Although his started out rather poorly, Leyva's "unrelenting spirit" led him to success. By the time he was in first grade, Leyva was fully committed to gymnastics. He competed at his first Winter Cup in 2006. From there, he went on to compete in the Junior Division of the U.S. National Championships and won first all-around, as well as gold on floor exercise and horizontal bar. He also tied for silver on parallel bars.
Parallel bars and horizontal bar are Leyva's specialties. He has his own signature move on the latter: Jam-dislocate-hop to undergrips.
At the 2008 Junior National Championships, Leyva won the all-around, high bar, parallel bars and pommel horse titles. He was the high bar champion at the 2008 Pan American Gymnastics Championships, and won gold in the all-around at the 2008 Pacific Rim Championships.
In 2009, Leyva became the youngest member of the U.S. national senior team, at age 17. He competed at the 2009, 2010 and 2011 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. Leyva beat reigning national champion Jonathan Horton at the 2011 Visa Championships and came second behind John Orozco at the 2012 Visa Championships. He competed at the Olympic trials and made the U.S. men's gymnastics team to compete at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, along with John Orozco, Jonathan Horton, Sam Mikulak and Jake Dalton. He is the first Cuban-American and to earn a spot on the team.
Leyva won the bronze medal in the individual all-around at the 2012 Summer Olympics. He returned to Olympic competition at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio where he won two silver medals in the parallel bars and horizontal bar events. “Nobody has a perfect day in gymnastics but that was as close to perfect as I could come,” he said in an interview in the Miami Herald. “If you had told me I’d win two silvers, I probably would have argued and said, ‘I’m going to win gold,’ but I’m really happy. It’s a dream come true.”
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