Penny raises a microphone to his mouth. "These guys are one team with one dream, and that dream is to take the Red, White, and Blue and win gold at the 2012 Olympic Games," he announces. "Please welcome the first two members of the men's Olympic team: Mr. Danell Leyva and Mr. John Orozco."


In the hours after the meet, as the crowds filed home and Leyva's Olympic dream settled into reality, the Kendall-trained kid flashed a wide grin and told reporters, "Honestly, I don't know how I did it."

Alvarez knows how: "He trains that way all the time."

Yin Alvarez encourages his stepson and best student before a big routine.
Giulio Sciorio
Yin Alvarez encourages his stepson and best student before a big routine.
Since the first grade, Leyva's daily routine has revolved around practice.
Giulio Sciorio
Since the first grade, Leyva's daily routine has revolved around practice.

When team gymnastics began last week in London, Leyva and his teammates immediately turned heads by leading after the first day of competition. Their position gave them a chance to be the first U.S. team since 1984 — and the first ever in an Olympics that wasn't boycotted — to win an all-around team gold. On Monday, though, they fell short, finishing fifth overall.

Still, the first-day scores showed the world that the U.S. has entered a new realm of men's gymnastics.

"It's taken more than 20 years to let people know our program is back at the level it was in 1984," Penny says. "We are on the verge of another great era in men's gymnastics."

Leyva still has a chance to compete for all-around gold, a medal that was to be decided August 1 (after this issue went to press). He'll be the first American male to compete for individual all-around gold since Paul Hamm won it in Athens during the 2004 games. The Bleacher Report's David Daniels proclaimed, "If anyone could pull it off... it'd be Leyva because, again, no gymnast will enter the Olympics more prepared."

Leyva's path to all-around gold will be much tougher than his U.S. national victories, though. Standing in his way is a litany of international stars, including Japan's Kohei Uchimura, a 23-year-old phenom who won the silver in the all-around in 2008. Since 2009, Uchimura has won consecutive world all-around titles, and he's the prohibitive favorite to take that title in London.

But if Leyva pulls off an upset over the Japanese wunderkind, his star power might not have a limit. "There is nothing like Olympic hardware around your neck to validate your value," Penny says. "That medal validates you in the marketplace."

In fact, Leyva has already broken the mold for a male gymnast, with endorsement deals with Citibank and Hilton Hotels signed before he'd even earned a spot on the U.S. squad.

"In the past, it was nearly impossible to get an endorsement deal when you've never been to the Olympics," says Horton, the 2008 vet joining Leyva in London. "I didn't have a single sponsor until about a year ago."

The media interest in the Cuban-American sensation has peaked early as well. On July 20, American Idol personality, TV producer, and nationally syndicated radio host Ryan Seacrest spent a day with Alvarez and Leyva in Miami. Seacrest is doing a piece about Leyva for NBC Sports' Olympic coverage. Leyva has also been a guest on morning talk shows on Univision and Telemundo.

But as he leaves for England, Leyva has only one thing on his mind.

"After the team gets gold, I want to get all-around gold, P-bars gold, and then at least a silver on high bar," Leyva says. "It's a huge honor that I'm representing the United States in the 2012 Olympics, being born in Cuba. I have so much gratitude, and I feel so privileged to say that."

A journalist has one last question for the gymnast, though: Who's more excited about London, him or his stepdad?

"C'mon, is that really a question?" Leyva says with a laugh. "I'm very excited — but not nearly as excited as Yin."

Damin Esper contributed reporting to this article.

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