Olympics-More than one badge of honour for Leyva


Thu, 28 Jun 02:23:00 2012

A circuitous journey to the United States from Cuba as a baby has helped world parallel bars champion Danell Leyva set himself lofty goals as he aims for Olympic glory at next month's London Games.

The 20-year-old Cuban native is one of 15 gymnasts competing this week in Olympic trials for five spots on the U.S. team and he would dearly love to win gold medals for his adopted country and also for the entire Latin community.

"I wouldn't say I'm confident but I do always like to envisage myself having a medal be put around my neck," a smiling Leyva told Reuters after a training session at the HP Pavilion on Wednesday.

"Winning team gold in London is one of my highest goals. All-around gold is a very big goal and p-bar (parallel bars) gold would be awesome also.

"That would literally mean a dream come true. These are goals I have envisioned since I started this sport."

Asked what winning gold in London would mean to his fellow Cubans, Leyva replied: "Hopefully everything it would mean to me because I am not only doing it for the United States, I am also doing it for the Latin community in general.

"It's a huge, huge honour to say that I wasn't born in the U.S. and they are still letting me have the chance to represent them at such a high level, at the Olympic Games."


First things first, though, because Leyva still has to secure his Olympic spot in London from a 15-man U.S. squad envied around the world for its strength in depth.

"There are 15 of us here and all of us are amazing and we are all great picks to be a part of the team," he said. "Whoever they pick, it's going to be a great team. I am very, very excited. I just have to do my gymnastics this week and be good."

Leyva, a member of the U.S. men's team which won bronze at last year's world championships in Tokyo, said his motivation as a gymnast had become much less self-centred in recent years.

"When I was younger I was a little more selfish in the fact that I just kind of wanted to get all-around gold and now I envisage team gold much more," he added.

"I still go like, 'Yeah, I'm definitely going to win all-around and it's going to be awesome', but I definitely look at team gold as a huge, huge accomplishment."

Leyva, who claimed men's honors at the American Cup gymnastics meet in New York in March, was initially brought to the United States by his mother, Maria Gonzalez, who was a member of Cuba's national gymnastics team.

"When I got to the United States, I was only two years old," he said. "I left Cuba when I was like a year-and-a-half and I went to Peru for six months and then came to the United States in the December.

"I know my mom went through a lot to get me and my sister here. Competing for the U.S. is a huge honour. I hope I can do everything I can to make everyone proud."


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