John Orozco

Gymnast John Orozco set to return from major knee injury

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Reigning U.S. all-around gymnastics champion John Orozco will compete for the first time since the London Olympics this weekend.

Orozco and Olympic all-around bronze medalist Danell Leyva lead the field at a national qualifier in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Saturday and Sunday.

Their eyes are on the U.S. championships Aug. 15-18 in Hartford, Conn. At least 14 gymnasts from more than 70 will clinch berths for nationals based on a points ranking system.

The already qualified Orozco, 20, suffered a torn left ACL and associated meniscus damage on a parallel bars dismount during a post-Olympic USA Gymnastics tour in October. It’s the second major rehab for Orozco, who tore an Achilles in 2010.

Orozco will only compete in four events this weekend — high bar, parallel bars, pommel horse and still rings. He expects to be cleared to do full floor exercise and vault training in anticipation of doing all six events at nationals.

“It’s a competition to get back in shape and see where I’m at in competition, to get back into it instead of nationals being my first competition back,” Orozco said by telephone from Colorado Springs.

Orozco said his rehab and recovery from Nov. 9 surgery have gone to plan. He returned to gymnastics apparatus in February and started doing full skills about a month later.

The Bronx native learned from the previous Achilles injury not to dwell on the fact he would be out a prolonged period. He said, this time, the biggest disappointment was merely not being able to finish the tour with his teammates.

“I didn’t think it was that bad when I first hurt myself because I was able to walk away from it,” Orozco said of the October injury. “A few hours later … I knew that I was going to be out quite a while. I was thinking about how I could make (the rehab) go by faster, mentally preparing to get myself out of this depression you hit when you get injured and are out for a while.”

Orozco said he never thought about taking all of 2013 off, like so many Olympians have done who weren’t injured. He’s eager to compete yet has set modest goals. Rather than racking up more medals, he’s focused on making the national team and reaching the world championships in Antwerp, Belgium, in September and October.

“I’m not trying to give myself too many expectations,” he said. “I’m not going to be too hard on myself if my plans don’t work out.”

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Helen Maroulis dominates for world title after making history in Rio

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Helen Maroulis, after becoming the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic wrestling title, had quite a year.

She grappled in a cage with Conor McGregor. She lifted Teddy Roosevelt. The Maryland native cracked steamed crabs with Cal Ripken Jr. And spent three months in Norway.

Then, she came back to competition. And dominated once again.

Maroulis won the world title at 58kg on Wednesday, mercy ruling all five of her opponents by a combined 53-0 margin and finishing the day with a torn thumb ligament.

“This was really special to me because I didn’t just go to Rio, do things right there and then come back and everything crashed and burned,” said Maroulis, who has won three straight global titles (the Olympics sandwiched by two worlds). “I heard people say everything in the book [after Rio]. Maybe I just had a good day or this or that. Three years in a row, I achieved the goal I set.”

The 25-year-old took seven months off after Rio — her coach told her that she might lose worlds because of it — but looked and felt reinvigorated on Wednesday.

“I was, like, counting down the days before Rio, like don’t focus on vacation after. I was so overwhelmed and tired,” Maroulis said. “But this, I’m like, man, I love this. I could do this all over again.”

She improved to a 78-1 record since taking bronze at the 2014 Worlds. Remember, Maroulis went 1-30 in her first year as a wrestler at age 7.

She’s the only American man or woman to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in at least 30 years, doing so in 2015 and again Wednesday.

Maroulis, after a hard struggle to cut weight to 53kg for Rio, moved up two divisions (11 pounds) this year. By the numbers, she faced an easier road to gold.

Saori Yoshida, the three-time Olympic champion whom Maroulis dethroned at 53kg in Rio, and 58kg superstar Kaori Icho, the only woman to win four Olympic golds in an individual event, both sat out this year for Japan.

The top 58kg seed at worlds, Olympic silver medalist Valeria Koblova of Russia, bowed out of her opening match with a left knee injury.

Maroulis plowed the remaining field, winning her first four matches Wednesday by mercy rule to reach the final by a 42-0 point margin.

Also Wednesday, 20-year-old Becka Leathers took bronze at 55kg in her senior worlds debut.

Worlds continue through the rest of this week. Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox goes Friday, and Olympic champions Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder close out the competition Saturday.

A full broadcast schedule is here.

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Dream Team, Shaq lead FIBA Hall of Fame inductees

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The Dream Team, Shaquille O’Neal and Toni Kukoč headline the FIBA international basketball Hall of Fame inductees for 2017.

A ceremony will be held Sept. 30 at FIBA headquarters in Switzerland.

The Dream Team enters the hall on the 25th anniversary of its unforgettable run at the 1992 Barcelona Games, where it went 8-0 and won by an average of 43.8 points per game.

The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air every Dream Team game from the Olympics next week. A full schedule is here.

That team included two players who are already FIBA Hall of Famers — Michael Jordan and David Robinson, who both won multiple Olympic gold medals.

O’Neal was left off the Dream Team in favor of Christian Laettner as the single college player to round out the 12-man roster otherwise made up of NBA All-Stars.

But O’Neal went on to lead Dream Team II as MVP of the 1994 World Championship. He paced the U.S. in points (18 per game), rebounds (8.5 per game) and field-goal percentage (71.3).

O’Neal then played on the 1996 Olympic team that won gold in Atlanta, starting three of eight games. The U.S. was loaded at center with Hakeem Olajuwon, who led the Houston Rockets to 1994 and 1995 NBA titles, and Robinson, the 1995 NBA MVP.

Kukoč, best known as a member of Jordan’s supporting cast on the late 1990s Chicago Bulls teams, won a world title with Yugoslavia and two Olympic silver medals for Croatia.

He was MVP of the 1990 World Championship, where Yugoslavia beat the U.S. in the semifinals and the Soviet Union in the final.

Kukoč made his Olympic debut at age 19 at Seoul 1988, then was part of a star core of Croatian teams with the likes of Dražen Petrović and Dino Radja in the 1990s.

FIBA Hall of Fame Class of 2017:

TEAM
Dream Team (USA)

PLAYERS
Mickey Berkowitz (Israel)
Pero Cameron (New Zealand)
Toni Kukoč (Croatia)
Razija Mujanovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Shaquille O’Neal (USA)
Valdis Valters (Latvia)

COACH
Dusan Ivkovic (Serbia)

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