LONDON – Like pretty much everybody, Danell Leyva thinks Kohei Uchimura is the greatest male gymnast who’s lived.
While the three-time world champion was solidifying his exalted status with the Olympic title Wednesday, all but wrapping up the gold midway through the meet, Leyva gave a glimpse of what the young American hopes could be the sport’s next great rivalry. Closing with perhaps the two most spectacular routines of the night on the parallel bars and high bar, the 20-year-old rallied to win the bronze medal.
It was only the second all-around medal for a U.S. man since 1984, and added another chapter to Leyva’s incredible story. He fled Cuba as a sickly toddler with his mother and older sister, making their way to Miami through Peru and Venezuela.
“I’m going to keep working to beat him,” Leyva said of Uchimura. “His gymnastics is just so beautiful. … I’m not trying to copy his style. I have my own style.”
Uchimura finished with 92.690 points, almost two in front of Leyva. Marcel Nguyen won the silver, giving Germany its first Olympic medal in the men’s all-around since 1936.
Uchimura has been untouchable since winning the silver medal in Beijing.
“He’s in a different world,” German coach Andreas Hirsch said. “He wasn’t part of this competition.”
But Leyva continues to aim high. He does not have the natural build of a gymnast. His feet are too flat and his backside too big.
But what Leyva lacked in natural ability, he has more than made up for in dogged determination and, similar to Uchimura, a relentless quest for perfection.
Leyva had finished first in qualifying, but faltered in team finals, where the Americans finished fifth.
He put himself in an early hole Wednesday with a mediocre routine on pommel horse, his second event. But as the guys above him faltered, Leyva slowly chipped away at the lead.
When Leyva’s score flashed after the final event, guaranteeing he would win a medal, the celebration was on. Uchimura’s name may have first, but the 2016 Rio Games are ahead.
“I like that he’s up there,” Leyva said. “That’s what I need to go for. I need to go for that.”
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