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

Ajee’ Wilson learned from sitting out World Championships

Ajee' Wilson
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NEW YORK — Ajee’ Wilson, the world’s fastest female 800m runner in 2014, could only watch the 2015 World Championships 800m final.

“It was hard,” Wilson, 21, said Saturday. “I really wanted to be there.”

But she couldn’t, not after a stress reaction in her left tibia. It was announced that she withdrew from the Worlds team on Aug. 10, the same day U.S. men’s 800m champion Nick Symmonds was left off the team due to a contract dispute that gained many more headlines.

At Worlds, the final proved a surprise. Kenyan Eunice Sum, the favorite and top rival of Wilson based on times in 2014 and 2015 (before Wilson’s injury), took bronze. Maryna Arzamasava grabbed upset gold for Belarus.

“It gave me hope for this year because anything can happen,” Wilson said. “I’m just hopeful that this year will be my time.”

Wilson is off to a promising start. She won the 800m at the indoor Armory Track Invitational in Manhattan on Saturday by .03 over Laura Roesler.

Roesler, the 2014 NCAA champion from Oregon and runner-up to Wilson at the 2014 U.S. Championships, missed most of 2015 due to a partial right Achilles tear.

Wilson said she raced through her shin injury last June, from a victory at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York on June 13 through the U.S. Championships final June 28.

At Nationals, Wilson memorably lost her right Adidas shoe while jostling for the lead near the start of the final curve with 200 meters to go, saying she got clipped (race video here).

Wilson persevered and grabbed third place by .04 while running with one shoe on. The top three finishers earned berths on the World Championships team.

Wilson said that while she was injured before the U.S. Championships, she never considered not competing at the meet.

“I was still kind of in denial that it was a problem,” Wilson said, adding that while the final didn’t aggravate the injury, “after USAs, it kind of just got to a point where you had to shut it down so I would be ready for this year.”

Wilson took about three weeks off from training completely and was back to normal.

“It was just poor timing,” said Wilson, a New Jersey native who turned professional after high school and placed sixth at the 2013 World Championships before elevating to fastest woman in the world in 2014 and second-fastest in 2015 before she shut down.

This summer, Wilson is among several threats to break a 44-year drought of U.S. Olympic titles in track races longer than 400 meters.

She may be the best hope to do so, that is if she can prevail at the Olympic trials. Not only is Roesler back, but she’ll also have to contend with veterans Alysia Montaño and Brenda Martinez.

The latter duo finished directly in front of Wilson at the 2013 Worlds and the 2015 Nationals, but neither made the final at Worlds last year (Montaño fell in her first-round heat).

The Olympic trials final is July 4 in Eugene, Ore., with the top three in line to make the Olympic team. Wilson will hope to be there with a stronger left tibia and a more secure right shoe.

“Ever since I started running, it’s been really deep in the 800m,” she said. “It’s going to be a dogfight.”

MORE: Rio Olympics six months out: Burning Questions

Lindsey Vonn’s winning streak snapped

Lindsey Vonn
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For the first time in 13 World Cup speed races, Lindsey Vonn crossed the finish line and saw a number other than “1” next to her name.

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised when I saw [the scoreboard],” Vonn said. “I knew that I didn’t ski my best, and I knew that I didn’t risk everything.”

Vonn was beaten by Swiss Lara Gut and German Viktoria Rebensburg in a World Cup super-G in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Sunday.

Gut was .15 faster than Rebensburg and .23 better than Vonn, who still broke Renate Götschl‘s record with her 42nd World Cup super-G podium. Full results are here.

“It’s a good day at the office,” Vonn told media. “I’m older and wiser now and to get to the finish healthy and to be in third is still a pretty darn good day.”

Vonn had a clear error near the end of the course, losing balance and lifting her right ski off the snow, but she was already behind Gut in the two most recent split times. The mistake may have cost Vonn second place, though.

“Today was just not one of those days where I really felt like putting it all on the line,” Vonn said. “I’ve had a great season so far, and I want to keep it going.”

Gut earned the victory, one day after she was a disappointing 14th in a downhill won by Vonn.

“It’s not true that Lindsey is unbeatable,” Gut said, according to The Associated Press. “All of us just have to step on it.”

Vonn had won 11 of her previous 12 World Cup downhill or super-G starts, including five straight super-Gs. In the only non-victory in that stretch, she skied off course and recorded a DNF in a downhill.

On Sunday, Gut cut into Vonn’s standings lead for the World Cup overall title, the sport’s biggest prize this season with no Olympics or World Championships. Vonn now leads Gut by 87 points through 25 of a scheduled 41 races.

Vonn remains on 76 World Cup victories, 10 shy of retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record.

The World Cup resumes with a downhill in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, on Saturday.

MORE: American podiums in first race on 2018 Olympic course