US Olympic Gymnastics Team 2012: Danell Leyva's Dad Key to Gymnast's Rise

Thomas Galicia@thomasgaliciaContributor IIJuly 23, 2012

The story of Olympic gymnast Danell Leyva and his father and coach Yin Alvarez is the epitome of the American father-son story.

Born in Cuba to Maria Gonzalez (herself a former member of the Cuban gymnastics team), Leyva and his mother defected to the United States when he was just a year old.

While his biological father (named Johan Leyva, also the namesake for his middle name) lived in Spain and only connected with Leyva via telephone, Leyva's father figure came in his stepfather and coach Yin Alvarez.

Alvarez himself is also a former gymnast for the Cuban national team. He defected to the United States by swimming across the Rio Grande while the Cuban team was performing in Mexico.

Alvarez has been Leyva's coach since the youngster first started showing an interest in gymnastics at an early age. Alvarez and Gonzalez married in 2001 after spending years working together at their gym in Miami—where Leyva was their prized pupil.

There were some early difficulties in Leyva's life that made it seem like he would never be in position to become a champion gymnast—Leyva was born with severe asthma, which is part of the reason why his mother defected to the United States. However, Leyva would meet Alvarez at a young age, and so began the strong bond between gymnast and coach—as well as the stronger bond between father and son.

"We connected right away, and it obviously hasn’t broken since then," Leyva said in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "And I don’t think it’s ever going to break."

Leyva is looked at as a favorite to bring home plenty of medals in London. His strongest events are the parallel bars and high bar, but he also has the potential to bring home the all-around gold medal. Pair his potential success with his natural charisma, and it's not a surprise that Leyva is considered a potential breakout star in London.

But his stepfather and coach also has the potential to be a star in London. Alvarez has become a viral sensation due to his over-the-top exuberance shown when celebrating a routine by Leyva.

Leyva himself has even commented on his father's exuberance during his routine and how it has inspired him:

"The energy that he has gives me, a lot of life. I think he's a little bit more famous than I am, personal opinion."

If everything goes right for Leyva, both will be tremendous celebrities after the games in London. This is even a goal for Leyva, who stated in June at the US Gymnastics championship in St. Louis that hopes to do something that only 14 people before him have done:

"My goal is to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony."

None of the 14 to accomplish this have an Olympic gold medal—something that Leyva and his dad hope and expect to leave London with.

It's something that likely would never have been a goal had it not been for the bond between an exuberant coach and stepfather and the once asthmatic stepson and future American Olympian—both born in Cuba but now in the United States due to the promise of freedom and prosperity, which both have achieved.

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