The audience’s attention on the center floor is distracted by a bending, rolling and chanting man standing off to the side. The man continues rocking, raising a leg and occasionally jerking his arms. Some people in the audience snicker and laugh as they watch him. Some even film his gyrations. Is he drunk or maybe his mind is like an iPod set on shuffle? Why doesn’t anyone get in his face and tell him to settle down?
As the performance on the center floor nears the end, the man begins to clap multiple times, yell and jump. At a different time and place, you’d could probably get management to settle this man down, but not in this venue. This man’s shameless, over the top display of support and enthusiasm is genuine. This man is stepdad and gymnastics coach, Yin Alvarez. The athlete on the center floor is his stepson, Danell Leyva.
Danell is America’s most prominent young gymnast: world champion on the parallel bars; U.S. national champion in all-around, parallel bars and high bar; and Olympic Trials Champion.
Yin Alvarez was a member of Cuba’s national gymnastic team. In January 1992, he defected to the United States by swimming across the Rio Grande while the Cuban team was competing in Mexico.
Danell’s mother, Maria Gonzalez, was also a member of Cuba’s national gymnastics team during the same time as Yin. Maria and Danell defected to Miami when Danell was a young toddler. Several years later, Yin and Maria were reunited and opened Universal Gymnastics in Miami. In 2001, they got married. Yin coached Danell from beginner to his recent bronze medal at the London Olympics for all-around gymnast.
As you may have already guessed, Yin is more than a gymnastics coach. He might also qualify as the most energetic coach, not just in gymnastics, but the entire Olympics. The confidence and enthusiasm pouring out of Yin is impossible to ignore, whether you’re meeting him in person or watching on You Tube.
Yin essentially feels what his stepson is feeling. When Danell’s grip feels a little off on the parallel bars, Yin’s grip gets a little tighter. If Danell is laboring through a high bar routine, Yin’s clapping before a dismount gives Danell a second burst of energy he needs to finish smoothly.
As you watch Danell’s routine you’ll notice Lin off to the side shadowing the routine. His high energy chanting, hand clapping and celebrating have become well known in gymnastics circles. Yin and Danell have caught the hearts of the world watching a stepdad-stepson duo achieve their dream of Olympic success.
As Danell competed in qualifying for the team all-around gymnastics final, Yin, showed his usual energy from the stands. Even when hiding under his lucky green towel to shut himself off from the world, he could hear Yin cry out, “You’re the best, baby!”
As expected those words made Danell believe it.
Everybody thinks it’s an embarrassment because he acts so crazy, but it’s actually a big help,” Danell said of his stepdad and coach. “I love hearing him. I love his energy and passion. I feed off of it. It definitely makes me better.”
Yin said he first dreamed of opening a gym and coaching an Olympian when he was a boy in Cuba, a country he knew would never let him reach that goal.
I was a dreaming person, and people that dream, there’s no room for them in Cuba, so you feel dead and more dead because you know things aren’t going to get better,” Yin said. “That’s something me and Dani have similar. Even though he’s not my real biological kid, we dream the same.”
The seeds of their Olympic hopes were planted when Yin and Maria, attended a Cuban sports school together. They both left their families as children so they could train for Cuba’s national team.
Maria never married Leyva’s biological father, Johann Leyva, who remained in Cuba, so Yin stepped in for him. He visited Danell often, once giving him gymnastics videos.
Initially, Maria rejected the idea of her son participating in gymnastics. According to her, Danell was chubby, his arms too long, his feet too flat and his backside too big. Also, Danell’s asthma wasn’t a good fit for the gym, where chalk dust floats like pollen in springtime.
She actually took me to a class and coach was like, “I can’t deal with this kid; please don’t bring him back,” Danell said, laughing. “That was exactly the time Yin opened his gym. Since then, I’ve been with him and he’s put up with me.”
Dani might not have had the body type, but he had the heart to train, said Yin. Yin blesses himself and blows the good wishes to Danell, then to the heavens. Then he claps several times when Danell is finishing a routine — his clap, clap then clap, clap, clap has become so well known that fans now join in.
Regardless of how Danell performs, Yin always leaps for joy and spins around, then sprints backward while pumping his fist. On the day of the Olympic preliminary trials, he yelled, “That’s it!” in Spanish from the stands, and it echoed throughout the arena. (At the Olympics, only the team coaches for each competing nation are allowed on the floor.)
I think Cuban people get more excited than everybody else because we’re very emotional,” Yin said. “In Cuba, you can’t say things like: ‘I want Castro out! We’re hungry! There’s no freedom!’ But you can say anything else. And we do!”
“We’re both huge goofballs, but when it comes down to work, we switch on that focus,” Danell said. “I inherited my fight from him. Nothing can break us.”
By the way, Yin’s enthusiastic+ coaching isn’t exclusively for his stepson but for all the athletes he coaches. You can expect to see Yin and Danell in the 2016 Olympics where they will continue their pursuit of Olympic Gold. Check out the two goofballs in action as they were interviewed by Ryan Seacrest.