Olympics 2012: U.S. gymnast Danell Leyva's security blanket

Danell Leyva of the United States reacts after competing on the pommel horse in the Artistic Gymnastics Men's Individual All-Around final on Day 5 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena on August 1, 2012 in London, England.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

(CBS/AP) What's the deal with that Danell Leyva and his ever-present towel? Call it superstition.

The U.S. gymnast, who won a bronze medal Wednesday in the men's all around, likes to pull the grayish-blue towel with stars on it over his head between events so he can maintain his focus and not get distracted.

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The 20-year-old Cuban refugee used to have two, but one ripped, so now he carries the same one everywhere he goes. (Yes, he does wash it).

Any doubts about the power of the towel were erased earlier this year at Winter Cup, a ranking meet for the U.S. men. Leyva, the son of two Cuban Olympic athletes who defected when he was just a one-year-old, forgot to pack the towel and had one of his worst meets in a long time, falling on parallel bars, where he's the reigning world champion, during qualifying, and high bar, his other best event. He wound up a distant fourth.

The towel has become so famous it now even has its own Twitter account.

The flashy 20-year-old shook off the jitters to deliver a rollicking high bar routine Wednesday night to rally for a bronze medal in the men's gymnastics all-around final. Leyva's score of 90.698 was just enough earn the first U.S. men's medal in the all-around since Paul Hamm grabbed gold in Athens eight years ago.

When Leyva's feet smacked the mat with a thud after drilling his dismount, he exploded into the arms of stepfather and coach Yin Alvarez, capping a dazzling comeback in which Leyva showcased the talents — not to mention the dramatic flair — that solidified his position as the best U.S. gymnast of his generation.

"I knew I had to stick that routine to get a medal," Leyva said.

And salvage what had been a disappointing meet for the American men, who won the team qualifying last weekend but stumbled to fifth in the finals.

Leyva accepted the lion's share of the blame after slipping off the pommel horse, sending any hope the U.S. had of contending for Olympic gold along with it.

He appeared headed for the same fate 48 hours later in the individual all-around, after a steady pommel routine nearly came undone when his legs stalled just before the dismount.

Frustrated, Leyva stewed under his lucky blue towel while the judges weighed the penalty.