Expectations were tempered for Danell Leyva after the United States men's gymnastics team's disappointing fifth-place finish in the team event, but he managed to bounce back in a big way, as he won a bronze medal in the men's individual all-around competition.
Leyva slipped onto the medal stand with a total score of 90.698 behind the silver-medal winner, Germany's Marcel Nguyen, and the Olympic champion in Kohei Uchimura of Japan.
Leyva surprised a lot of people by qualifying in the top spot for the all-around, but he proved that it certainly wasn't a fluke on Day 5. Perhaps Leyva drew inspiration from the U.S. women's team gold on Day 4, as he turned in about as good of a performance as he could have hoped for.
The American men didn't win an individual all-around medal in Beijing, so Leyva's medal is the first for Team USA men's gymnastics since Paul Hamm's controversial gold in Athens. Prior to that, the last American medal in the individual all-around was awarded to Peter Vidmar in 1984. In fact, Leyva's medal was just the fourth by an American male in the all-around over the course of Olympic history.
Like his teammate John Orozco, Leyva struggled on the pommel horse, although he was able to avert disaster by bouncing back on rings. He completed his medal-winning effort by dominating on the high bar, which is his signature event. He could have easily let things snowball, as they did for the United States in the team event, but his competitiveness and clutch ability were on full display.
Born in Cuba before defecting to the United States at the age of one, Leyva truly is an American success story. Simply qualifying for the Olympics had to be a great thrill for Leyva, but he beat the odds in a lot of ways and managed to win a medal.
Leyva's performance salvaged the London Games for Team USA, as there were pretty high hopes for the team collectively after pulling out a surprising bronze in Beijing. That success wasn't duplicated in London, but Leyva was able to come through despite the weight of a nation sitting on his shoulders.
Men's gymnastics tends to favor longevity more than the women's division, so Leyva may have a chance to return in 2016 when the Games are held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He is only 20 years old and is already an Olympic medalist, so he will likely let that sink in first, as he has become an American hero.
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