Posted: Aug 2, 2012 12:48 AM by Andrew Masuda
Sometimes "salvaged" Olympic medals are all the more exhilarating. There was at least one gymnast on the podium of the men's all-around final who would probably agree.
The 2012 Olympic Games hadn't yet turned out to be the fairy tale that Danell Leyva has been dreaming about. After Leyva and his teammate shocked the competition with a first-place finish in the qualifications, the surprising new favorites crumbled to a disastrous fifth place in the team final - not only letting a potential Olympic gold slip away, but a medal altogether. Danell Leyva's nervous fall on pommel horse was one of the big reasons why.
When Leyva made another large error on the same event in the second rotation of the all-around finals today, it felt a bit like déjà-vu. His 13.5 dropped him to a dismal 19th place, and a climb all the way back to third place seemed a lofty - if not impossible - feat. He and teammate Orozco - who also suffered a repeat of his dismal pommel horse routine from the team final - appeared to be writing chapter 2 of an Olympic nightmare for Team USA.
But the 20-year-old Cuban-born American didn't give up. Solid hit routines on rings and vault crept Leyva's all-around tally closer to the top ten, but it was a home run on the event that won him the world championship title in 2011 that suddenly changed the game. With one of the best parallel bars performances of his career in the fifth rotation, Leyva leapt to 6th place in the standings, just over seven tenths of a point from third.
But the best was yet to come.
In a thrilling final rotation, the medals were tossed around like hot potatoes, as second place Kazuhito Tanaka of Japan collapsed on the pommel horse, Russia's David Belyavsky and Ukraine's Nikolai Kuksenkov put up solid but not spectacular high bar routines, and leader Kohei Uchimura touched his hands down on one of his tumbling passes.
Leyva and his stepfather and coach Yin Alvarez may not have been doing the math, but everyone in the arena seemed to know it - as the last competitor on high bar in the final event of the competition - Danell Leyva had a chance. In perhaps the biggest moment of his career, the former world high bar finalist went for broke - tossing his signature full twisting Tcatchev and laid-out double back over the bar and recatching them perfectly to gasps from the crowd. His long body swung confidently and aggressively, connecting all of his world class skills as the anticipation in the building continued to grow. When he soared his dismount high above the bar and landed delicately on his feet, the arena erupted. As his final score was tallied and the final rankings were displayed, it was confirmed - Danell Leyva had just fought his way back to an Olympic bronze medal, behind Japan's Kohei Uchimura and Germany's Marcel Nguyen.
A lot was probably running through Danell Leyva's mind as he stood atop the podium and wore an Olympic medal around his neck - the thousands of hours he'd worked, the countless nights he'd dreamt of this moment, and the teammates he wished could be standing up there with him. It might not have been the gold medal that Danell Leyva and the rest of Team USA had been dreaming about at these Olympic Games, but it probably felt like one. Sometimes there's much more to a medal than its color.
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