After a disappointing performance on the pommel horse at the start of Wednesday’s all-around finals, U.S. gymnast Danell Leyva draped his lucky blue towel over his head in silence.
A few hours later, he replaced it with a bronze medal around his neck. Meanwhile, his towel was busy gaining thousands of new Twitter followers.
Leyva appeared on TODAY Thursday alongside his stepfather and personal coach, Yin Alvarez, and U.S. gymnastics teammate John Orozco to talk with Savannah Guthrie about his good luck charm.
What started out as a joking superstition five years ago has become a mechanism for Leyva to focus when his mind tends to wander. The old blue towel with a star pattern has become a celebrity in its own right, as its parody Twitter account, @LeyvasTowel, now has 10,000-plus followers, rapidly gaining on the 50,000 on Leyva’s account.
Danell shows off his lucky towel.
“At first it was just a lucky towel, but it has turned into so much more than that,’’ Leyva told Guthrie. “It has turned into something that really helped me get into the zone and into the concentration of my routine because I tend to get distracted way too easily. It really helps.’’
The towel celebrated all the attention surrounding Leyva and his good luck charm after Wednesday's performance by tweeting, "OMG! It's a fluff piece all about meeeee!"
OMG! It's a fluff piece all about meeeee!— Danell Leyva's Towel (@LeyvasTowel) August 2, 2012
Leyva, 20, has had the lucky item by his side since 2007. While one aunt went to buy a towel, another aunt went to retrieve one from her house, and they both came back with the same exact type of towel. He kept both of them, and one of them ripped later in 2007. The remaining one has been his constant companion at competitions for the past five years.
Another constant at his competitions has been Alvarez. His rhythmic clapping, ritual kissing of Leyva’s forehead and other routines have become a regular part of Leyva’s performances.
“It’s something that I do every day,’’ Alvarez told Guthrie. “I do it with all my athletes since Danell was a little kid, and I still do it with the little kids. It’s something that I do. That’s me. That’s my routine.’’
“I’m very, very lucky to have him there with me the whole time,’’ Leyva said. “It’s amazing. We have such a huge connection since I was really young, since I started. To have not only him but also my mom here…I feel very, very lucky.’’
Alvarez and the lucky towel helped Leyva focus on Wednesday after he struggled on the pommel horse at the beginning of the all-around finals and had to recover on the other apparatus in order to earn a medal. His score of 90.698 was good enough to make him the first U.S. men's gymnast to earn a medal in the all-around since Paul Hamm won gold in 2004.
“I didn’t have the best pommel routine,’’ Leyva said. “I kind of messed up. (Alvarez) came over to me and said, ‘Don’t worry, nothing happened. Just relax and do what you do every day.’ We both knew that my strongest events were at the end, and I just have to show off and do what I do.’’
Orozco didn’t fare as well, as he ended up finishing out of medal contention in eighth place in the all-around competition. He and Leyva both told Guthrie they plan on competing in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“This whole experience, it’s been a real journey for me,’’ Orozco said. “I didn’t quite have my big dream moment like I was hoping for, but just making it here and competing at the Olympics, I know that there’s thousands -- if not millions -- of kids that wish they can compete at the Olympic Games just like I did here in London. I’m grateful for the opportunity and I’m still glad that I got to go up there and compete for Team USA.’’