On Saturday, Danell Leyva lost the men's national gymnastics championship by a mere .05 percentage points, but the 20-year-old Cuban American gymnast is pretty much a lock for a spot on the United States Olympic men's team. Leyva was edged out by John Orozco, a 19-year-old from the Bronx who is called "Silent Ninja" by his friends because of his ability to sneak up on the competition. Both gymnasts had been locked in a back-and-forth battle since the competition began last Thursday in St. Louis.
Even though he lost to Orozco, Leyva told NBC Sports that he expects to be at his best for London. "I don't want to peak right now," Leyva said. "I want save my perfect competition for the games."
Orozco had led throughout much of the men's first round of the championships last Thursday, but Leyva's performance on the parallel bars gave the defending men's champ a slim .05 lead entering the finals on Saturday. Leyva took a commanding 2.05 lead that had Associated Press gymnastics writer Will Graves gushing over his maneuvers:
The routines were dramatic and daring, the kind of breathtaking displays that make Leyva the most charismatic American in the sport. The world champion in parallel bars moved effortlessly back and forth across the chalky sticks 6½ feet off the ground, his hands in constant motion as he flawlessly strung together a series of ambitious tricks few others can match. His 16.0 score gave him some wiggle room before turning the gap between he and Orozco into a chasm on the high bar, gymnastics' version of a roller coaster.
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But like the Miami Heat against the Boston Celtics in Game Seven, Orozco roared back to claim the title. The longtime rivals' performance was another affirmation that Leyva and Orozco will be part of the deepest USA men's gymnastics team since 1984 -- one that is expected to compete for a gold medal.
"Everyone is fighting for it," Leyva said in an interview after the first round. "This team is going to be ridiculous."