Danell Leyva has been going in one direction for the past five years now…UP.

It’s hard to believe this two-time world team member and two-time world high bar finalist is still not yet twenty years old; he just turned 19 on October 30 of this year.  A stunning junior talent, the Cuban-born phenom placed 9th in the senior division at the 2007 national championships at just 15 years old – an absolutely unheard of accomplishment for a male gymnast of that age.  He placed 11th at the same competition the following year in 2008, and in 2009 Leyva was finally ready to make his move as an international player for the United States.  Though still not consistent as an all-arounder, Leyva placed 5th all-around at the 2009 national championships and showed he was ready to challenge the best in the world on at least two events – parallel bars and high bar.  He was selected for the 2009 individual world championships in London, where he not only made the high bar finals but put up a routine that many fans and experts felt was medal worthy; after some controversial judging the soon-to-be 18-year-old ended up in 4th place.

While 2009 was his international breakout, in 2010 Leyva has stepped up as a leader for the USA.  Showing more competitive confidence than ever before, Leyva actually led Olympic medalist Jonathan Horton for much of the national championships this August.  Though he ended up with the silver medal, it was the most consistent all-around competition of his senior career and a sign that we had not yet seen the best of this still budding star.  Leyva went on to compete solidly at the world championships in Rotterdam, helping the team to a strong 4th place finish with hit routines on pommel horse, p-bars, and high bar in the team final.  He also competed alongside Jonathan Horton in the all-around final (finishing 18th with some mistakes on p-bars and pommel horse) and again made the high bar final, where he hit his jam-packed set for the 4th straight time of the meet and finished in 5th place.

The 2010 Valeri Liukin Invitational just took place this weekend, and Leyva ended his spectacular season with a 90+ all-around score and a first place finish.  Leyva’s strong six-for-six effort yielded a 90.95 to beat out Japan’s Sho Yokoyama and Jumpei Oka, who scored 90.25 and 88.55, respectively.  Leyva’s top scores included a pair of 15.8’s on both p-bars and high bar, and his very strong 14.75 on pommel horse placed him second on the event.  Ukraine’s Nikolai Kuksenkov and Japan’s Kohta Kamajima scored 88.4 and 87.45 to round out the top five.

2009 world team member Wesley Haagensen tied Yokoyama for the top rings score with a 15.2, and 2010 world team member Chris Brooks placed third on p-bars with a 15.25.  Alexy Bilozertchev was impressive on floor, placing second with a 15.3.  2008 Olympian Sasha Artemev was expected to compete, but dropped out after warm-ups due to lack of readiness…unfortunately a recurring theme for the often-injured talent who has essentially been out of competition since Beijing.