Danell Leyva – From Alternate to Men’s Team Hero

After the Olympic Trials, Danell Leyva, (who is now a two time Olympian) wasn’t exactly satisfied with the result of the competition he had just performed in. Danell was looking to return to the Olympics and defend his bronze medal in the all around from 2012 (or even improve on that stat). However, while Danell waited for his name to be called on the five member team, and then it wasn’t, his heart broke. Although he was refilled with a bit of relief when he heard that he was called onto an alternate position for the U.S. team. This means that if one of the original team members gets hurt, Danell Leyva would be one of three options of gymnasts to replace the hurt athlete. But, hardly anyone ever gets hurt. Well, at least that is what most of the world thought.

Just a few weeks after the conclusion of the Olympic trials, 2012 Olympian, John Orozco, is training for his second games in Rio when he dismounts from the high bar and feels an odd but familiar sensation in his leg. It was soon discovered that John had torn his ACL and meniscus and therefore, he would be forced to withdraw from the Olympic games (this is the same injury John suffered in October 2012). This means that Danell Leyva would be called up to represent the United States of America at the Rio games in place of his former teammate, John Orozco. Although heartbroken for what had just happened to his dear friend, Danell Leyva was ready to take advantage of the opportunity and go out on the big stage and represent Team USA as well as he could. And that is exactly what he did.

After disappointingly falling off the high bar (traditionally one of Leyva’s strongest events) in the team final round of gymnastics (the most prestigious event in men’s gymnastics), Danell Leyva knew he had let his team down (they finished fifth) and he wasn’t going to let the negativity carry on to the event finals just a couple days later. In 2012, the U.S. men’s gymnastics team left London with only one medal, a bronze won by Danell in the all around final. Leyva and the rest of his teammates knew that they did not want this to happen again. They knew they had already lost one chance at a medal (the team final), but they weren’t going to let this drag them down. And once again, Danell Leyva surely didn’t.

As he mounted the parallel bars on Tuesday afternoon, Danell knew this was one of his stronger chances at picking up a medal. Going first on an event is not always easy. You have to wait around and watch the other guys go, just hoping that you’ve done enough to get a medal. But Danell made it look easy. Just because that is what he does. In the end, after performing very strongly, Danell ended with a silver medal on parallel bars. Although he was excited, he knew he had to calm himself because he still had one last event final just a few hours away.

This time Danell was last up. He got to watch everybody else before him and in the end, he knew exactly what he had to do to end up on the podium. And after a great performance, Danell was able to end up with another silver, this time on the horizontal bar. Danell, thrilled with his performances, and happy to have added two more medals to the ending total of three medals won by the men’s team (improved from their 2012 performance), said shortly after the high bar final that “this is for him (John Orozco) just as much as it’s for me”.

Photo via Getty Images.

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