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Cuban immigrant Danell Leyva wins U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials

He is in tears as he is introduced as an Olympian after earning guaranteed spot on team. John Orozco also clinches berth; others await decision for three other spots and up to three alternate positions.

June 30, 2012|By Diane Pucin
  • Danell Leyva does a flip during his parallel bars routine at the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials on Saturday in San Jose.
Danell Leyva does a flip during his parallel bars routine at the U.S. Olympic… (Ronald Martinez / Getty…)

SAN JOSE -- Danell Leyva, the demonstrative 20-year-old Cuban immigrant whose stepfather and mother coach him and coax him and celebrate with him in equal measures, won the U.S. Olympic trials Saturday and also a guaranteed berth on the five-man team that will go to London.

John Orozco, a 19-year-old from the Bronx, finished second and also earned a guaranteed spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

Leyva, who scored 368.350 over four rounds of competition at the U.S. nationals in St. Louis three weeks ago, and Thursday and Saturday here, was bouncing and dancing and waving and screaming while the U.S. national anthem played and the crowd of 10,516 at the HP Pavilion stood and cheered.

Orozco, who finished with 367.400, was in tears as he was introduced as an Olympian. "I can't really believe it," he said.

The other three members of the five-man team, plus the alternates, will be named Sunday morning.

Sam Mikulak, the 19-year-old from Newport Coast who had won the first of the two days of trials, only did one event Saturday after he re-injured his left ankle Thursday night while landing his vault.

Last year in a competition in Puerto Rico, Mikulak had broken both his ankles on a bad floor exercise landing.

Mikulak showed off his bruised and swollen left ankle Saturday and said if it had been his choice alone, he might have competed in everything.

"But that might not have been smart," Mikulak said. So instead he just did a pommel horse routine.

His father, Steve, an orthopedic surgeon, said it was an easy decision to tell Sam to sit Saturday. "If the U.S. wants him healthy in London, it was a no-brainer," he said. "But when all the guys marched out at the beginning and the crowd was going nuts, I was afraid for a minute Sam wouldn't do the smart thing."

Leyva and Orozco had been exchanging spots at the top starting in St. Louis, and Orozco had taken the lead after the vault, the fourth of Saturday's six rotations.

But on the final event, in which both competed on the parallel bars, Orozco said his left hand got stuck on the equipment and he hurt a ligament between his left thumb and finger.

"I don't know how I got through the whole thing," Orozco said. He wobbled and labored and scored only a 14.350.

Leyva's routine wasn't perfect either. He said he had to improvise after almost missing a skill early.

"It was like being a kid and just making it up as I went along," Leyva said.

But his mark of 15.850 was enough to put him on top.

"I don't even know how to describe the feeling," Leyva said. "Maybe it will set in later."

The other competitors will have to endure a long Saturday night. The men's selection committee expects to announce the rest of the Olympians and up to three alternates about 10 a.m. Sunday.

Jonathan Horton, who is third overall and who was a 2008 Olympian, said he'll have a nervous night.

"Nothing is for granted," said Horton who was furious with himself for stepping out of bounds on his final floor exercise.

Both Chris Brooks and Jake Dalton, who are tied for fourth overall, said sleep Saturday would be difficult.

"Just going to be doing the math, over and over," Brooks said.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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