Danell Leyva remembers seeing his first gymnastics performance at age 2 1/2 on a TV screen in Florida shortly after immigrating to the United States from Cuba. Immediately, he remembers, he wanted to be a gymnast. Now the 20-year-old is heading to London to compete in his first Olympics.
Your stepfather, who's your coach, also came over from Cuba?
He was in the circus, then had an acrobatic routine with a dance partner, dance mixed with acrobatics, and he would travel around the world with this show. He went to Mexico and met his own dad, who helped him to cross over [to the United States]. He had to lay his clothes on his back and swim across the Rio Grande.
Have you been back to Cuba?
I would love to go back, but I have to wait for a while on that.
It's a tough issue. Would you ever go into politics?
I don’t know if I would do politics, I think I would rather be an actor.
What’s your dream role?
Saturday Night Live, probably. I want to host SNL really, really badly but I’d love to be a regular on there.
Let’s call Lorne Michaels. What should the opening skit be?
Hopefully something with Emma Stone.
She’s great! Have you seen the new Spider-Man?
Oh my goodness, that movie was amazing. [Ed note: pun!]
What sports do you want to see other than your own?
I want to see track very, very badly. One of the guys I look up to the most is Tyson Gay ... I want to see swimmers too; it would be cool to know Ryan Lochte. His mom was born and raised in Cuba. I also really want to meet the Cuban Olympic team and say "hey, what’s up?"
Do you have any good-luck rituals?
I put a towel over my head before I go so I don’t get distracted.
No, I have two. Before one meet, one of my aunts went to go buy a towel and one went to go get one from my house. When they both came back they had the exact same towel, I’ve had both of them since 2007. One of them got ripped but I still have the other.