US Olympic Trials: Why Danell Leyva Is Men's Gymnastics Team's Best Bet for Gold

Gil ImberAnalyst IIJune 27, 2012

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 7: Danell Levya reacts after competing on the high bar during the Senior Men's competition on day one of the Visa Championships at Chaifetz Arena on June 7, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

When he calms down, Danell Leyva might want to send fellow American gymnast John Orozco a "thank you" card.

With Leyva leading Orozco heading into the final event of the U.S. men's gymnastics championship on June 9, victory was all but certain—Orozco could coast to the top of the podium, assured that he—what's that? Orozco scored a 15.500 in floor exercise?

And just like that, it was over—Orozco had overtaken Leyva to snatch victory out of the jaws of, well, someone who has the heart and emotions of a lion. "Of course I'm upset I didn't get first," said Leyva after one of those touchy-feely questions that all reporters just love to ask before, during and after every sporting event.

Then Leyva turned it up a notch: "It'll drive me to win trials."

The scene is now set for the gymnastic Olympic trials in San Jose, California. Kicking off June 28 and concluding June 30, the men's trials will be a dogfight through and through, with Leyva ravishingly craving that by July, he and he alone will be U.S. Men's Gymnastics' top dog.

So forget trials. Leyva won't stop until he is standing atop the medal podium at the 2012 Olympic Games.

In 2008, the Chinese team nearly swept the men's gold in Beijing, with Poland's Leszek Blanik—Team China did not qualify an athlete for the men's vault—taking the final top prize.

In 2012, expect more of the same—that is, unless Leyva has anything to say about it.

With a string of first- and second-place national championships and cup challenges under his belt, Leyva has proved his mettle on the domestic stage—if he says he's driven to win trials, by gosh, he'll put on one heck of a show—though for this Florida 20-year-old, next month will be all about defying expectations in London.

Not that Leyva hasn't been there before. Lleyva already won the all-around 2012 AT&T American Cup in New York and 2011 World Championships in Tokyo and placed first in the 2010 Pacific Rim Championships' team competition.

That's all fine and dandy, but this year, Leyva stepped into the lion's den—Zibo, China—and came out slightly scathed, managing a fourth place finish in the high bars.

Can this kid really take the gold?


He admits it was immaturity that cost him a chance at the Olympics in 2008: "Looking back at myself, I wish I was there to slap myself in the face."

This sort of raw emotion has inspired greatness before. From Jesse Owens in 1936 to Team USA's "Miracle on Ice" in 1980 to Angelo Taylor in 2008, gut-wrenchers from adversity to the quest for glory are the most natural and legal performance enhancer. For this reason, Leyva is Team USA's best shot at men's gymnastics gold.

Team USA has not won men's gymnastics' top prize since Paul Hamm took the all-around gold during the 2004 Athens Games, yet in the all-time medal count, Team USA leads Japan by just three discs—including two golds—for the top spot, not counting the dissolved Soviet Union.

So perhaps Leyva might want to hold off on that "thank you" card. Perhaps an Orozco victory at the U.S. trials will compel Leyva to declare, "It'll drive me to win the Olympics."