John Orozco

John Orozco’s mom on his mind as he leads P&G Championships

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PITTSBURGH — John Orozco strode off the competition floor and behind a black curtain at the Consol Energy Center. He checked his phone, and he grinned.

“She’s been texting me the whole time,” he said.

Orozco methodically marched to a surprising all-around lead on the first night of men’s competition at the P&G Championships on Friday. But he’s also in a rush to finish, fly home to the Bronx and see the person on the other end of that messaging conversation.

Orozco scored 90.75 points over six routines, edging Olympic teammate Jacob Dalton by .5 for first place halfway through the competition to crown the U.S.’ best gymnast.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air coverage of the second half Sunday from 2:30-4 p.m. ET. Gymnasts are also competing to be selected for the six-man team for the World Championships in Nanning, China, in the fall.

Orozco’s backstory was well told during the London Olympics.

One of five children raised by Puerto Rican parents, his mom, Damaris, used to drive him daily from the Bronx to the hamlet Chappaqua for gymnastics practice, usually more than an hour away with traffic.

Orozco’s parents aren’t in Pittsburgh watching him compete this week. He prefers it that way.

Damaris, who has lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, is having trouble with one of her surgically replaced knees. A decade ago, doctors inserted a metal rod to help her walk. Now, the rod is pushing her kneecap out to the side.

“They’ve been pushing [surgery] back for a month,” Orozco said. “They’ll push it back for another month unless they can somehow find money to pay for it.

“I’m going to give all the money I can so my mom can get this done with already. I’m so worried about her right now because I know she’s the kind to tough through it, even though it might not be smart for her to do it. She’s really tough, so I know she’ll push through it. I don’t want her to go through that right now.”

Orozco posted the highest scores on parallel bars (15.25) and high bar (15.7) Friday night. He did so with little pain, remarkable given his history.

The 2012 U.S. champion Orozco finished fourth in the all-around last year while wearing a knee brace after tearing an ACL and meniscus in October 2012. Orozco also tore an Achilles in 2010.

He was initially left off the 2013 World Championships team but added when 2011 U.S. champion Danell Leyva pulled out with a shoulder injury.

Orozco won bronze on parallel bars at Worlds, but another Olympic teammate, Sam Mikulak, had ascended to the top U.S. all-around threat. Mikulak beat Orozco at the American Cup in March.

Mikulak, the favorite coming into competition here, struggled on parallel bars and fell on his butt on floor exercise. He’s in fourth place, 2.35 points behind Orozco.

“It’s not over,” Mikulak said. “I’m excited to get out there and redeem myself.”

The men’s competition this weekend is bringing the gang back together. The entire 2012 U.S. Olympic team is here, including two-time Olympic medalist Jonathan Horton performing for the first time since London. He’s in 12th.

Leyva, Orozco and Horton all entered with points to prove, overcoming injuries or performance struggles. Orozco felt it.

“I was still kind of peeing my pants before some of the events that I was on,” he said, but adding, “it really felt like I was myself out there again.”

Orozco’s nerves were tested on the final event Friday. He went to the pommel horse, where he had fallen apart in the team final of the London Olympics, scoring 12.733 points two years ago. The U.S. team, which entered with medal expectations, finished fifth in London.

Orozco stayed on the horse this time, scoring 14.5 points (fourth out of 30 men).

After he dismounted, Leyva revealed to Orozco that his nightmarish pommel horse routine from the Olympics had played on the jumbotron before he went to perform.

“I’m really glad I didn’t see that before I went up,” Orozco said.

If Orozco finishes in the top two in the all-around after Sunday, and top three in at least three individual events, he will secure a spot on the World Championships team. The same team he initially didn’t make last year.

“All I can do is finish Sunday,” Orozco said, “and get home as fast as I can to help her out.”

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Michael Phelps to participate in Shark Week

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NEW YORK (AP) — Olympic champ Michael Phelps is participating in Discovery network’s Shark Week this summer, although he won’t be asked to outswim one.

It’s not immediately clear what Phelps will be doing, although Discovery President Rich Ross said Tuesday he’s intrigued about seeing the fastest human swimmer interact with nature’s fastest. Perhaps Phelps can be encouraged to go underwater in a shark cage, he said.

The week of shark-themed programming in mid-summer is annually Discovery’s biggest event. Now that it is approaching its 29th year, programmers are on the lookout for a new wrinkle.

Phelps has won 28 Olympic swimming medals, 23 of them gold.

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World Figure Skating Championships ice dance preview

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Alex Shibutani says he and sister Maia have made a statement the past two years.

“With our ability to perform when the stakes are highest,” he said.

The stakes don’t get much higher than this week.

The Shibutani siblings, breakout world silver medalists a year ago, lead three U.S. couples who finished in the top six at the 2016 World Championships into this year’s worlds in Helsinki.

It is the strongest ice dance field since the Sochi Olympics. The PyeongChang Winter Games medal contenders will be confirmed this week.

The clear favorites are Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Olympic champions competing this season for the first time since taking silver in Sochi. Virtue and Moir returned from their two-year break to post the three highest total scores of all time in their last three international competitions.

“This is probably the most prepared we’ve been for a world championships,” Moir said, while adding, “this was a warm-up season.”

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The Shibutanis finished second (with a personal-best score) to Virtue and Moir at the most recent event, the Four Continents Championships at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea in February. The margin separating the two couples — 5.1 points — was considerable.

“We’re sort of in a way in a race against ourselves to try and see how good we can get and how good we can become,” Alex Shibutani said. “Each competition along the way is another step to that eventual goal [the Olympics].”

At worlds, the Shibutanis are in the medal mix with France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who won the last two world titles.

The French, already the youngest world champs in 40 years, are trying for the first ice dance three-peat in 20 years.

But they have not progressed this season, unable to match or better their winning score from the 2016 World Championships.

Papadakis and Cizeron train in Montreal with Virtue and Moir, but they struggled (held against their own standard) in both competitions outside of French borders this season. And in different areas — step sequences, twizzles, lifts.

Conversely, it looks like the Shibutanis’ biggest obstacles are well behind them. They went from a world bronze medal in their first senior season together in 2011 to four straight years off the podium.

The Shibutanis hit a nadir at the Sochi Olympics with a ninth-place finish, worst of the three U.S. couples. Maia’s tights snagged on Alex’s sequined jacket during a lift.

The devoted vloggers countered doubts after Sochi by stressing their youth — Alex was 22 then; Maia was 19. They talked about weathering the journey and sticking to a meticulous creative process.

It paid off with their first U.S. title last year, followed by that world silver medal in Boston.

“Last year’s results at the world championships were very energizing for us,” Alex Shibutani said. “People are aware of the career trajectory that we have had. We’ve set ambitious goals because we were so motivated following that result and that exciting string of competitions that we had last season.”

The Shibutanis were actually outscored by two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates in the U.S. Championships free dance in January. They stormed back with that personal best at Four Continents, though, erasing any doubt that they are the U.S. couple expected to make the podium in Helsinki.

The U.S. has earned 12 ice dance medals at the last 12 World Championships. In that same span, the U.S. brought home eight medals combined from men’s, women’s and pairs.

The Shibutanis feel confident they will extend recent American success in their discipline.

They would also create more history for sibling skaters. They’re already the most accomplished brother-sister duo since Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay of France won three straight world medals followed by Olympic silver in Albertville.

“We really elevated the way that we compete and perform,” at Four Continents last month, Alex Shibutani said. “Our skating has reached another level.”

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