As Danell Leyva picked up speed on the high bar, letting go and catching it almost faster than the mind can comprehend, Leyva’s stepfather and coach, Yin Alvarez, could barely stay on the ground.
Alvarez twisted and turned and kicked up his feet, gathering as much momentum as Leyva, and when the routine was over, completed with just a small hop on the landing, Alvarez picked up Leyva and carried him on his back in joy.
After 18 total rounds of competition at the national championships two weeks ago and Thursday night at HP Pavilion in San Jose in the first of two nights of the U.S. Olympic trials, Leyva has taken a commanding lead in the men’s gymnastics all-around competition.
Leyva, a 20-year-old who was born in Cuba and came to the United States before he was 2 years old, leads John Orozco of New York by almost a point with a score of 276.500 to Orozco’s 275.550.
Sam Mikulak, a sophomore at Michigan who is from Newport Coast, is in third place with 274.650 points. Mikulak actually posted the highest score Thursday with 91.800 points on the six events.
After Saturday’s final round of Olympic trials, the top two all-around finishers are official Olympians, provided they also ranked in the top three in at least three events.
The other three members of the Olympic team will be announced Sunday night.
It didn’t seem as if Leyva was headed for the top spot after he flew out of bounds on his first routine, floor exercise. “I just had too much power, too much energy,” Leyva said.
He doesn’t have any more energy than Alvarez, who seems to compete as hard as his stepson on each exercise.
Alvarez mimicked Leyva’s vault, just after he took two mints from Leyva’s mother and co-coach Maria Gonzalez. After Leyva got a 15.900 on the parallel bars, the best score of the night on the apparatus, Alvarez jumped and screamed, “That was the best routine, the best, the best,” and it was hard to accuse Alvarez of exaggerating. Leyva’s muscles moved, but the bars stayed still.
Leyva also finished first in the high bar, getting a score of 15.850 and causing Alvarez to say, “Have you seen anything like it?”
Mikulak, 19, whose best routines were on the pommel horse, where he tied for second with Leyva, and parallel bars. where he was second by himself, might have made the U.S. world championship team last year if he hadn’t broken his ankles on a floor routine at a meet in Puerto Rico.
But he is healed now and he had a noisy band of fans who came from Orange County and wore t-shirts that said, “Team Sam,” and had Mikulak’s face on them. They moved around the arena, following Mikulak to each apparatus and sometimes, Mikulak said, getting kicked out of seats.
“This is an awesome feeling,” Mikulak said after his performance Thursday. “I’m just looking forward to Saturday.” His fans will be staying around too.