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But All She Does Is Win : Palos Verdes Gymnast Doesn’t Believe She’s Great

Times Staff Writer

Danielle Leone of Palos Verdes High says she’s not a great gymnast. She believes competing in the Olympics or a top-notch college program is unrealistic for her.

“I’d like to compete in college, but a school like UCLA always chooses the top gymnasts,” Leone said. “And I won’t try for the Olympics because I know I’m not going to make it.”

Perhaps the 5-foot-5 gymnast is underrating herself. She’s only a 16-year old junior who is undefeated this season heading into Saturday’s CIF individual gymnastics finals.

“I thought I’d do pretty well in high school,” Leone said, rubbing her fingers through her short blond hair. “I thought maybe I’d be consistent--but not undefeated.”

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In last week’s CIF qualifying meet, Leone had a career-high 36.85 points in the all-around competition. She scored a 9.45 in the vault, 9.15 in the bar and beam events and 9.25 in the floor contest.

And despite the Sea Kings’ last-place finish in the Bay League, Loene won the league all-around title at Torrance High on May 6 with an overall score of 36.8.

“She does everything so well,” said Palos Verdes Coach Jim Mitchell. “It’s a lot of hard work. It’s hours and hours of work. That means she doesn’t get to go to the high school dances, and she goes to the gym every day in the summer. Danielle has a lot of discipline.”

Leone is unique because she’s the only high school girl in the area to perform the giant, a high-risk trick, on the uneven parallel bars. The gymnast swings all the way around the bar and does a handstand on it.

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“Other girls (in the Bay league) haven’t caught her yet,” said Mitchell, who competed on the Cal State Fullerton gymnastics team for two years and is part owner of Studio West, a gymnastic club, in Rolling Hills. “They just haven’t been able to do it, and I don’t think girls in other leagues are going to beat her either.”

Leone’s performance this season has a lot to do with her experience. She’s been competing in the U.S. Gymnastics Federation Class 1 category for four years. This was her first year competing in high school because the CIF prohibits gymnasts to compete both for a club in the federation and in school.

“I’ve been recruiting Danielle for a long time,” said Mitchell, who has coached gymnastics at Palos Verdes for eight years. “I’ve invited her to be on the team and this year she finally took me up on it.”

Before this season, Leone had competed for a gymnastics club in Anaheim. She qualified for the federation’s West regional championships last year in Arizona and decided to compete in school--where competition is weaker--because the hours commuting and the longer practices hurt her academically.

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“It was hard to do all that and keep up with schoolwork,” she said. “It’s a lot harder to score in the USGF, but there are some strong gymnasts in high school as well.”

Two are from the South Bay and will join Leone at Westlake High in Los Angeles for Saturday’s CIF finals, which begin at noon.

Lori Orme and Holly Teal of Rolling Hills High, the Bay League’s co-champion team, have also qualified.

Orme, a 17-year-old senior, won the Bay League beam title despite not competing most of the year because of an ankle injury suffered while practicing a few weeks before the season.

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“She’s come back remarkably,” said Rolling Hills Coach Janis Riegle. “There was no way we could have done so well in the league meet without Lori.”

Orme was also the Bay League runner-up in all-around competition. She qualified for the CIF finals in vault and beam performances in last week’s CIF preliminary meet.

“The injury didn’t hurt me on the beam,” said Orme of her strongest event. “I’ve come back and do the same tricks. The hardest thing about my injury was watching the meets and not being able to compete after training so hard.”

Last year Orme was the team MVP and won the CIF beam title. She’s expected to do well in that event Saturday despite missing six weeks of practice.

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“I don’t think there’s a girl in the league who can match her trick for trick on the beam,” Mitchell said. “Lori is just tricked out on the beam. She’s very, very strong in that event. I wouldn’t even try to match her.”

Orme’s teammate, 5-foot-4 sophomore Teal, will also be hard to match.

The 16-year-old, whose strength is the uneven parallel bars, appeared in the CIF finals as a freshman and placed seventh in the overall event. She also won the Bay League bar title last year.

This season, she tied Leone for the Bay League’s bar title. Both scored 9.2. in the league meet.

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“Holly is one to watch,” said Orme. “She’s only a sophomore and look how great she’s doing. By the time she’s a senior, she’s going to be a terror.”

Teal qualified for the CIF finals with a 35.75 all-around score in last week’s CIF preliminary meet.


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