The roster for the U.S. Men’s Gymnastics for this year’s Olympic Games will not be set until after the trials in June. But there is little doubt that Cuban born hottie Danell Leyva will make the team. The 2011 World Championship parallel bars gold medalist, who trains in Florida, is in a perfect position to land one of the spots on Team USA. But then any position the 20-year-old soulful eyed Latino hunk takes is a perfect one.
The 5’ 7” muscular stud excels at the high bar, floor exercise, and of course parallel bars for which he was champion at the 2010 and 2011 Winter Cup Challenges. He was also the all-around silver medalist at the 2009 Winter Cup Challenge and recaptured that title in 2010. In 2009, he became the youngest member of the U.S. National Senior team at age 17, and won the gold medal on the horizontal bar and the silver medal on the parallel bars. At the London Games it is expected he will be a gold medal winner in individual events and help his team finish in a medal position.
Coming from a family of gymnasts (both his mother and step father, who are his current coaches, competed for the Cuban National team), his dedication, skill, and drive are responsible for his remarkable record of wins. But then so is his lucky towel.
Many professional athletes have routines based on superstitions, and lucky totems or charms. Danell’s is a blue towel with stars on it. Asked about the significance of his lucky charm he said, “I don’t know, I just started wearing it. I always put it on after I finish, or when I’m going up to compete.”
When asked if it was similar to say, baseball, where a player might not wash their jersey when they’re in a hitting streak, Leyva replied, “Oh no, I definitely wash it. That would be a little gross.”
A little gross, yes, but worth a nice chunk of change on Ebay too no doubt.
Danell, or Lil D as he is affectionately known – which from photos of his muscular and bulging body encased in tight gym wear does not stem from his um, build – began his gymnastic career at the age of 4, following in the footsteps of his parents. When his mother, Maria Alvarez, stopped competing professionally, she was a coach in Havana, handpicking the island nation’s best young athletes, those with perfect gymnastics bodies. Her son she says, would never have made the cut. He had flat feet, too-long arms, and breathing problems. He could not figure out how to jump and looked funny when he ran. “I know gymnastics is so hard, and he was not coordinated and a little fat. . .,” she recalls of his early days when he declared he too wanted to be a gymnast.
As a baby, Danell suffered from a host of allergies and asthma that began when he was five months old. His breathing problems left his mother sleepless and worried. She remembers constant trips to the hospital. Maria decided to leave Cuba after determining that her son’s health depended on it. Her journey with Leyva and his older sister detoured in Nicaragua and Peru and took months. When she finally arrived in Miami, she reconnected with her old friend Yin Alvarez, Danell’s step father, whom she later married in 2001.
Yin Alvarez’s father, who had been active politically against Fidel Castro, escaped to the United States in 1968. In 1991, the younger Alvarez, Danell’s step father to be, decided to follow suit. He sneaked away from a Cuban gymnastics performing troupe during a trip to Mexico City. He put his clothes in a plastic bag and swam naked across the Rio Grande River and then caught a flight to Miami to reunite with his father.
Maria and Yin, who met each other through gymnastics in Cuba and became good friends, reconnected when she made it to Florida with Danell in tow. In 1995, Yin opened his own gymnastics facility in Homestead, Florida and Maria joined him, coaching young gymnasts side-by-side. The best pupil is their son, Danell.
Though Leyva is a gold medalist in the parallel bars, his work on the high bar gets most of the attention. His signature move – jam-dislocate-hop to undergrips – is a daring display of athletic prowess that leaves his competition in the dust. And spectators in awe. Danell is ecstatic about the thrill he gets performing on that apparatus saying that the speed and height involved is exhilarating. But then he is as enthusiastic about one of his favorite things to do, which is “to flip over.”
And that may be why Google’s predictive search results tacks on gay to Danell’s name on searches before it does his chosen sport or the events he excels at. Perhaps that rumor stems from his ugly crash on the high bar at the gymnastics world championships in Tokyo, eereely reminiscent of openly gay diver Greg Louganis’ crash and burn dive at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Or it could just be because he’s so damn cute. And a gymnast. Then again it could also have something to do with his cryptic bio note where he lists under ‘Other Sports Involvement’ the single word: Don. Huh. Methinks that’s an event I’d enjoy watching!
Outside of the gym, Lil D is artistically inclined and really likes painting and drawing. “I want to be a comic book artist,” he says. “I have a storyline and a whole bunch of characters. I don’t really have the names yet for them, but I do have a pretty good storyline. It has to do with werewolves, demons, and angels.”
But artistic flair and being a male gymnast are stereotypes, not proof positive that Danell plays for the pink team as well as the U.S. national team. And, even at the age of twenty, having your bedroom walls plastered with photos of partially naked, hot bodied sweaty men whose faces are contorted by equal parts of exertion and ecstasy does not necessarily mean anything more than that your life is devoted to gymnastics. But we can dream. And hope this gorgeous young hunk’s dream of winning the gold comes true for him in London.
Danell Leyva’s Going For The Gold (With iPhone)
[‘The XXX Games’ are a series of posts about hot Olympians, gay competitors – both present and past – and general articles about the 2012 London Olympics of interest to gay men. So, yeah, lots of hot male eye candy. Click the XXX Games graphic below for additional news, stories, and pictures.]