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.”

Bond between Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles

Hanyu, Miyahara into Grand Prix Final with wins at NHK Trophy

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu won the NHK Trophy in front of a home crowd in Japan in spectacular fashion – setting three world records – and qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the process.

He followed up his short program world record with a record setting free skate of 216.07 and a combined overall score record of 322.40.

China’s Boyang Jin finished second overall followed by Japan’s Takahito Mura. The U.S. Grant Hochstein finished fourth after an eighth-place finish in the short program.

Though the results are still unofficial, the men’s field in Barcelona will likely include no U.S. men, a streak that has continued since 2012. Max Aaron is eighth in the standings, but would be invited if he finished seventh overall. More on that the qualifying process here.

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Japan’s Satoko Miyahara took the ladies’ competition over the U.S.’ Courtney Hicks, who finished second in her first career Grand Prix circuit medal, and countrywoman Mao Asada, who finished third.

Ashley Wagner was fourth, the lowest place she could have to give her a berth to Barcelona. Wagner has earned a medal at every Grand Prix Final since 2012 (silver in 2012, and bronzes in 2013 and 2014).

Again, the overall standings are unofficial, but Miyahara, Asada, and Wagner should join Gracie Gold, Evgenia Medvedeva, and Elena Radionova in the Grand Prix Final.

Russia finished off the podium entirely in the ladies’ field – Alena Leonova and Anna Pogorilaya finished eitghth and ninth while Maria Artemieva finished 11th.

The last time no Russian women were on a Grand Prix podium – the final or otherwise – was in the 2012-13 season, where it happened a handful of times. Russian women have been featured on every Grand Prix circuit podium since the 2012-13 season, where they only missed out on Skate Canada, the Rostelecom Cup, the NHK Trophy, and the Grand Prix Final from that season. Names like Olympic gold medalists Adelina Sotnikova and Julia Lipnitskaya, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Elena Radionova, Pogorilaya, Leonova, and 2015 world junior champion Evgenia Medvedeva all contributed to that streak.

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U.S. pairs champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim earned a trip to Barcelona with a bronze medal in Japan. Leading the field in their ninth straight international win was Canadian pair Meaghan Duhamel and Eric Radford followed China’s Yu Xiaoyu and Jin Yang.

7 more Kenyan athletes banned for doping

Emily Chebet
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Two-time cross-country world champion Emily Chebet was among seven Kenyan athletes banned for doping Friday, another indication that the country has a serious problem of cheating among its famed distance runners.

Chebet, the cross-country world champion in 2010 and 2013, was banned for four years after testing positive for the diuretic and masking agent furosemide, the Kenyan athletics federation said.

The list of sanctions announced by Athletics Kenya included bans for the two runners that failed doping tests at the world championships in Beijing in August. Joyce Zakary and Koki Manunga, who were provisionally suspended at the worlds, also received four-year bans for furosemide.

There has been a recent spike in doping cases in Kenya and more than 40 athletes have now failed tests since 2012. Kenyan track officials are under scrutiny after allegations of doping cover-ups, and separate accusations of embezzlement of money at the national federation.

This week, a group of athletes stormed the federation headquarters in Nairobi demanding the resignation of top officials over the doping scandals and corruption allegations.

Along with her two cross-country world titles, the 29-year-old Chebet was a bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Her ban was backdated to July 17 and she will be unable to compete until July 16, 2019.

The doping cases of Zakary, a 400-meter runner, and Manunga, a 400-meter hurdler, undermined Kenya’s impressive display at this year’s worlds, where the country tied with Jamaica for the most gold medals with seven. They failed targeted tests carried out by world athletics body the IAAF in Beijing, enhancing suspicions that doping in Kenya is widespread.

Zakary set a national record of 50.71 seconds at the worlds before her failed test. The two were banned until Aug. 24, 2019.

The other four athletes banned on Friday were Agnes Jepkosgei, Bernard Mwendia, Judy Jesire Kimuge and Lilian Moraa Marita.

Jepkosgei was banned for four years for testing positive for the anabolic steroid metabolite norandrosterone. Mwendia was given a two-year ban for norandrosterone. Kimuge was banned two years for the norandrolone and Marita two years for the blood-booster EPO.

A World Anti-Doping Agency panel that recently reported on a systematic program of doping cover-ups in Russia said that Kenya also has a serious doping problem. That has spurred speculation that, like Russia, Kenya could face a blanket ban from international competition.

The IAAF has opened investigations into allegations that track officials in Kenya were involved in covering up positive doping tests. In a separate investigation, the IAAF is also looking at accusations of corruption against top officials at Athletics Kenya after they were questioned by Kenyan police over the alleged embezzlement of around $700,000 of the federation’s money.

One of the officials accused, AK Vice President David Okeyo, is a member of the IAAF’s decision-making council. The athletes protesting at Athletics Kenya this week demanded that Okeyo and AK President Isaiah Kiplagat step down.