Danell Leyva, Olympic Gymnast: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Danell Leyva USA Gymnastics

Danell Leyva will make his second trip to the Olympics as a result of John Orozco’s injury (Getty)

Friday afternoon USA Gymnastics announced a change to the men’s gymnastics roster for next month’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. John Orozco, whose path to a second Olympic spot was anything but smooth, has been ruled out after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee.

“It is always difficult to replace an Olympic team member,” U.S. Men’s National Team coordinator Kevin Mazeika said in the release. “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.”

This is the second time in Orozco’s career that he has suffered this specific injury, with the first coming in October 2012. In addition to battling injuries in recent years Orozco lost his mother on Valentine’s Day in 2015, which made the selection to the Olympic team that much more emotional for the Bronx native.

Miami native Danell Leyva will take Orozco’s spot on the team and will make his second Olympic appearance as a result. Here are five things you need to know about the newest member of the United States Men’s Olympic Team member, Danell Leyva.

1. Leyva and Orozco Were Teammates on the 2012 Olympic Team in London

Danell Leyva 2015 World Championships

Leyva and Orozco were the two best performers as the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials (Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)

The 2012 season was a productive one for both Leyva and Orozco, beginning with the 2012 Visa Championships in St. Louis. While Orozco came back on day two of the men’s competition to win the all-around title, Leyva finished second in the all-around by a margin of just 0.05 (184.850 – 184.800). Leyva led all competitors in the parallel bars and high bar portions of the all-around competition, but Orozco also performed well in those events (T-3rd in the parallel bars, 2nd in the high bar) and had the necessary scores in the other events to take home the title.

The two would trade finishing positions in the all-around at the 2012 Olympic Trials, with Leyva winning the title with an overall score of 368.350 and Orozco coming in second with a score of 367.400. The two best gymnasts in the United States in 2012, Leyva and Orozco were among the five men selected to represent the country at the Summer Olympics in London.

2. Leyva Won a Bronze Medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London

Danell Leyva 2014 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships

Leyva won a silver medal in the parallel bars at the 2014 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Nanning, China (Getty)

While the trip to London wasn’t the best for the U.S. Men’s Gymnastics Team as a whole, as they finished fifth in the team competition, Leyva didn’t return to the States empty-handed. Leyva won a bronze medal in the individual men’s all-around competition, with Japan’s Kōhei Uchimura and Germany’s Marcel Nyugen winning the gold and silver medals, respectively. Leyva led all gymnasts in the qualifying round with a score of 91.265, with his best score coming in the high bar where he posted a score of 15.666.

In the finals Leyva posted the highest score in the high bar and tied with Uchimura for the best mark in the parallel bars, while also placing fourth in the floor routine. However Leyva was 19th out of 24 competitors in the pommel horse and 14th in the rings, marks that proved to be too much to overcome in his quest for a gold medal.

3. Leyva Became a Member of the Men’s Senior National Team in 2009

Danell Leyva 2016 US Olympic Trials

Leyva will look to help the U.S. improve upon its fifth place finish in London (Getty)

After a decorated career at the junior level Leyva was selected to the United States Men’s Senior National Team in 2009 at the age of 17, making him the youngest member of the team. It didn’t take Leyva much time to leave his mark either, as he tied for first in the high bar and tied for second in the parallel bars at the 2009 Visa Championships in Dallas. Leyva would also finish fifth in the individual all-around at those championships, going on to place fourth in the high bar at both the 2009 World Cup in Montreal and the 2009 World Championships in London.

Two years later Leyva would win the parallel bars competition at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo while helping the United States finish third in the team competition. At last year’s Artistic Gymnastic World Championships in Glasgow, Leyva finished second in the high bar and sixth in the parallel bars, with the United States placing fifth in the team competition. Leyva lists the high bar and parallel bars as two of his favorite events, with the floor exercise being another.

4. Born in Cuba, Leyva and His Mother Left When He Was a Year Old

Danell Leyva 2015 World Championships

Leyva and his family are originally from Cuba, arriving in the States in the early 1990s (Getty)

Leyva’s mother, Maria Gonzalez, and step-father Yin Alvarez, defected from Cuba early in Leyva’s life. Alvarez’s path to the United States is a particularly interesting one, as he defected from Cuba while performing with a circus troupe in Mexico in December 1991. Motivated by dreams of owning his own gymnastics facility and serving as a coach, Alvarez would eventually move to Miami in 1992 and by 1995 open Universal Gymnastics.

“My sister Anna said to me when I get to the United States, ‘What is something you love? Think of something you love a lot and do that with your heart because you only can be successful in something that you really love.’

“And I tell her ‘I love gymnastics,’” Alvarez told USA Gymnastics in a 2011 feature.

In 1993 Alvarez and Gonzalez, who had known either other since they were both seven years old, renewed acquaintances in Miami where Gonzalez had moved to from Cuba with then-one year old Leyva. The two would eventually get married in 2001.

5. Leyva’s Parents Were Both Gymnasts, and His Stepfather Serves as His Coach

Yin Alvarez 2012 Summer Olympics

Leyva’s stepfather, Yin Alvarez, is also his coach and will be in Rio (Getty)

Both Alvarez and Gonzalez were members of Cuba’s national gymnastics team before their respective defections from the country, and as noted above they’d known each other since they were children. The couple run Universal Gymnastics together and both serve as coaches, with the excitable Alvarez serving as Leyva’s coach to this day. While some would be a bit distracted by Alvarez’s visible displays of emotion, that has never been the case for Leyva.

“I feel like in the beginning of my routine they’re watching me but after that they’re watching him because everyone starts laughing,” Leyva told USA Gymnastics in 2011. “I think it’s awesome. It gives me a lot of energy.”

For an example of Alvarez’s reactions, here’s the finish to Leyva’s high bar routine at last year’s Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Glasgow. Both Leyva and his stepfather/coach will be people to keep an eye on in Rio next month.