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Latino Daily News

Monday July 9, 2012

Cuban-Born Gymnast Danell Leyva Qualifies for U.S. 2012 Olympic Team

Cuban-Born Gymnast Danell Leyva Qualifies for U.S. 2012 Olympic Team

Photo: Cuban-Born Gymnast Danell Leyva Qualifies for U.S. 2012 Olympic Team

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Gymnast Danell Leyva always aims very high because he considers it the best way to achieve his goals - and it apparently works, because he has just qualified for the U.S. team competing in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The Cuban-born Leyva decided at a very early age that he wanted to be a gymnast and did not let asthma, unusually long arms, flat feet or attention deficit disorder stop him.

“My mom didn’t want me to be a gymnast because of my physical problems. It was hard, I couldn’t jump, but I had a lot of heart and passion for the sport. My parents realized that and decided to give me their support,” the 20-year-old athlete told Efe.

The young man reached the U.S. at the age of 2 accompanied by his sister and mother, after his grandfather managed to get them out of Cuba by first going to Peru.

“I was born asthmatic and in Cuba there were no medicines for it at that time - my mom was looking for better medical treatment for me,” the gymnast said in an interview with Efe.

When the family reached South Florida, the man who is now his stepfather brought a video to the boy’s house of the routine he and Leyva’s mother performed together - both were gymnasts in Cuba - and those shots captivated the youngster’s imagination.

“After the video finished I told them ‘I don’t know what this is, but I want to be like that.’ I was about 2 1/2 years old,” the athlete said.

Immediately afterwards, Leyva began to train, embarked on a sports career and never stopped until he achieved his greatest ambition, the chance to compete in the Olympic Games.

That goal came within reach a little more than a week ago in San Jose, California, when he finally classified for the Olympics that begin July 27.

“I was tremendously excited when the president of USA Gymnastics mentioned my name as a member of the team going to the Olympics. The Olympics are my dream,” he told Efe.

This is the first time Leyva will compete in the Olympic Games, and even acknowledging that he has a powerful rival in the Japanese athlete Kohei Uchimura, his objective is to win and bring home the gold medal.

“I always aim very high. I believe it’s the only way to achieve the goals you set for yourself. I want to win the individual and team competitions, and that’s aiming high,” Danell said.

His 22-year-old Japanese rival made his name in the history of the sport by becoming the first male gymnast to win three consecutive world titles.

Asked what other goals he has in life, Leyva said he wants to be a musician and actor.

“I don’t know if I want to study (at university), because I want to be a musician and actor, anything in the world of the arts. I love music and acting,” he said.

If he manages to get started in one of those careers, the gymnast is very clear about what he wants to achieve: “an Oscar for acting, a Grammy in music and an Emmy for television. I told you that I always aim very high,” he said with a smile.