Danell Leyva, Cuban American Gymnast, Begins Quest For Olympic Glory

Today, Miami gymnast Danell Leyva

begins defense of his national championship title as the country's

best gymnast as he inches closer toward his quest of becoming the

first Cuban American member of the USA team at the Summer Olympics in

London. This 20-year-old is a beast.

He is the reigning 2011 world

parallel bars champion and the 2012 American Cup champion. His win on

the parallel bars in Tokyo last year was the first gold medal for the

American men's team in 8 years.

Trained by his stepdad Yin Alvarez and

his mother Maria Gonzalez, who are former members of the Cuban

national team, Leyva became the youngest member of the U.S. National

senior team when he was 17.

Leyva and his mom fled Cuba in 1993 when she could not get any medication to treat her then-toddler son's asthma. Now he is considered his adopted nation's best gymnast with a chance to win multiple medals in London. His upcoming competition during the VISA National Championship in St. Louis is one of the first steps toward qualifying for the team.

A couple of weeks ago, Riptide caught up with Leyva at event at a Miami Beach branch of Citi Bank, one of his corporate sponsors.

Riptide: How do you feel this close to achieving your dream?
Danell Leyva: It is crazy. Anxious. But I am very excited. I want to do it already. I am very happy about it. I can't wait.

Aside gymnastics, what are your interests?
I am really into entertainment, music, acting, all of it. After gymnastics, I want to be an entertainer myself.

What was is like getting home schooled?
A lot of people think it is weird, but I liked it a lot more. I get distracted easily so if I tell myself to do something I will do it better.

How much do you train? What is your regimen like?
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, I train from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with like an hour-and-half break in the middle of the day. And Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

So it's non-stop, huh?
Basically it is a full-time job.

Is that the only way for you to get where you're at?
For me yes. I am a gymnast that needs a lot more work. Some of the things don't come as easy as they should I guess.

Is that what motivates you?
Yes, definitely.

Why do you think that is?
I always hated leaving an event or the gym without doing what I had to do. Say I am on the high bar. I have this one skill I keep messing up. I can't just leave. I literally have to stay there. One time I stayed on the high bar doing the exact same skill, not because anyone told me, for at least two hours. I kept doing it over because I kept messing up.

How competitive is American gymnastics?
It is pretty competitive. In the United States we are all friends on the team, but we all want to take each others top spots.

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