By: Mark Zeigler
LONDON — Daniel Corral is a Mexican gymnast from a small gym in the dusty Baja California town of Ensenada, which immediately elicits the question: What in the name of the pommel horse is he doing in London for the Olympics?
“To be honest,” Corral says, “I still ask this question every day.”
He is the first Mexican male gymnast to qualify for an Olympics in two decades and could become the first Latin American athlete, male or female, to win a gymnastics medal when he goes in the parallel bars individual apparatus final Tuesday at O2 Arena.
Corral is not among the favorites, but only eight men qualified for the final and crazy things happen when you mix human beings with the crucible of competition with two long wooden bars set 17 inches apart and 6½ feet off the ground. And it’s not like Corral hasn’t beaten major odds already. He’s from Mexico. He’s a gymnast.
“In Mexico, gymnastics was gone for 20 years,” says Corral, 22. “Right now, my coach and I are the only team. We’re the (national) team. Sometimes it’s been us against all of Mexico, against the federation, against plenty of people. But the only thing that matters is what my coach and I think.
“This is the result of it, and I’m happy about it.”
Corral became a gymnast because his older sister was, training with Steve Butcher at the Mission Valley YMCA. He was a rambunctious kid and his mother figured it was better to drain his bottomless reservoirs of energy on the vault runway than, as he puts it, “doing some things at our house that moms are not very happy with.”
Eventually, Mexican coach Oscar Aguirre moved from the YMCA to the Ensenada gym and they have been together ever since, forging a new legacy in a sport that had vanished like chalk dust after Luis Lopez finished 57th in the individual all-around at the 1992 Olympics. Corral was 2.