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John Orozco reflects on gymnastics career, looks to new venture

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Olympian John Orozco is getting set to leave the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, moving on from a decorated gymnastics career.

He’ll soon settle in Southern California, seeking to become a screen actor.

The Bronx native said he had never been asked how he wanted to be remembered by gymnastics fans. He offered this:

“Someone who could inspire people to keep pushing through no matter what,” Orozco said by phone Tuesday. “If it’s going on in their personal life, through the struggles at the gym or any other aspect of your life.

“You have to enjoy the struggles at times, because you wouldn’t appreciate success as much [if not].”

Orozco’s gymnastics were full of both. He evolved into a world-class athlete from the unlikeliest of backgrounds, emerging from family financial troubles and an area rife with gang violence.

Orozco’s mother, Damaris, used to drive him daily from the Bronx to the hamlet Chappaqua for gymnastics practice, usually more than an hour away with traffic. Damaris, who suffered for years with health problems including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, died two years ago.

Orozco’s career included bronze medals at three world championships (2011-team, 2013-parallel bars, 2014-team). Plus, a U.S. all-around title in 2012, when he became the youngest U.S. Olympic men’s gymnast since twins Paul and Morgan Hamm in 2000.

His favorite moment in 16 years as a gymnast? Marching out on the Olympic floor for the first time for qualification in London.

“Being one of five people in the nation representing your country, and in front of millions of people, you get to do what you love,” Orozco said. “It’s one of the most exhilarating feelings in the world, I think. I just remember walking out, and I heard the crowd screaming. It was really a breathtaking moment.”

Orozco did not perform the way he wanted in London, struggling on pommel horse and vault in the team final. The U.S. placed fifth, a disappointment after earning medals at the previous two Olympics and previous two world championships.

Orozco also erred on pommel horse in the all-around final and finished eighth. If he repeated his pommel horse score from qualifying, he would have bagged the silver medal.

But Orozco will be remembered as perhaps the greatest fighter in U.S. gymnastics history, coming back three times from major injuries. He decided not to a fourth time.

Before the age of 24, Orozco suffered two torn right Achilles and two torn left ACLs, the most recent setback last July, three weeks after tearfully coming back to earn a spot on his second Olympic team. That knocked him out of the Rio Games, and many thought Orozco’s career was finished.

Orozco was quoted in the fall saying that he would decide on his future after getting back to 100 percent.

“I actually never really got to 100 percent during my rehab before I decided to make this decision,” he said Tuesday. “I felt like this time around it wasn’t really happening with my ACL. It’s hard to find the motivation, especially after the Olympics are over. … It just feels like I’m kind of out of time, you know?”

It has been at least two decades since a U.S. men’s gymnast of Orozco’s caliber retired so young.

Orozco’s older Olympic teammates Jonathan Horton (31 years old), Danell Leyva (25) and Sam Mikulak (24) have not announced retirements yet.

Together, that group (plus a few others) heralded an era for U.S. men’s gymnastics where the team entered the Olympics and world championships with the expectation of contending for a medal. Even challenging China and Japan.

While Orozco is done competing, he may still do gymnastics. To stay in shape. And, given where he’s moving, perhaps teaching CrossFitters.

“I’m very, very grateful for the career that I’ve had,” he said.

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VIDEO: Sam Mikulak suffers serious injury

Paralympian Blake Leeper advances in 400m at USATF Outdoors (video)

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Paralympic medalist Blake Leeper, believed to be the first double amputee to race at a USATF Outdoor Championships, advanced out of the 400m heats in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday.

Leeper ran 45.52, third in his heat, to grab the 16th and last spot in the 400m semifinals Friday (10:34 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold).

It marked a personal best by .58 of a second for Leeper, who was racing one day after his ban for testing positive for cocaine in 2015 ended.

“I wanted to advance, but if I don’t I have won already,” Leeper said before he learned he made the semis, according to USA Track and Field. “Just being here and showing everybody what you can truly do with a disability.”

Leeper ran faster than Olympians David VerburgKyle ClemonsArman Hall and Manteo Mitchell, who were all eliminated.

It’s likely that the top five or six in Saturday’s final will make the 4x400m team for the world championships in London in August.

USATF OUTDOORS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

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Alysia Montano races pregnant again at USATF Outdoor Championships (video)

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U.S. Olympic 800m runner Alysia Montaño raced five months pregnant in 100-degree heat at the USATF Outdoor Championships (Summer Champions Series) in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday.

Montaño, who raced eight months pregnant at the 2014 USATF Outdoors also in Sacramento, finished last in her 800m first-round heat in 2:21.40. She was 10 seconds faster than her time three years ago.

“People were like, oh, you’re going to run faster than you did last time because you’re less pregnant,” Montaño told media in Sacramento, standing next to 2-year-old daughter Linnea. “I was like, I’m still pregnant.”

Athletes are looking for top-three finishes to qualify for the world championships in London in August. Finals are later this weekend.

USATF OUTDOORS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

In a Wonder Woman top, Montaño gritted her teeth on the final straightaway and raised her arms crossing the finish line.

“[In 2014] women let me know that my journey and my story had inspired them in so many different ways,” Montaño said. “I think there’s something about coming out to any venue, not really expecting to win, but just going along with the journey and seeing what comes out of it. And that’s the most beautiful part for me, being a track and field athlete, the platform that I have, I feel so responsible to be a representative of people who don’t have the same platform, don’t have the same voice that I do.

“I represent so many different people. I represent women. I represent black women. I represent pregnant women. Not everybody has the same platform that I do. I think it’s my responsibility to make sure I’m a voice and advocate for them.”

Montaño said she was inspired when she learned Gal Gadot, who played the title role in the movie “Wonder Woman,” filmed half of it while five months pregnant.

“I saw Wonder Woman, and I was like, I for sure am signing up for USA Nationals,” Montaño said. “I already was thinking I was going to do it.”

Montaño said it wasn’t easier or harder racing Thursday versus three years ago, when she had a bigger baby bump.

“The weird part about five months is you’re still growing and like shifting a lot,” she said. “So every week you have to readjust.”

Linnea has seen enough photos of her mom’s famous race in 2014 to know what was going on.

“I go, mom is going to run with your sibling in her belly,” Montaño recalled. “I did that with you, too. And [Linnea] was like, ‘Yeah, it was sticking out!'”

Montaño raced outdoors for the first time since falling in the Olympic Trials 800m final on July 4. Montaño had won the previous Olympic Trials (and finished fourth in London) and the 2015 U.S. title coming back from pregnancy.

She ran without an apparel sponsor Thursday, frustrated that Asics waited until December to say they were not interested in retaining her for 2017. Montaño said that left her no time to try and find a different sponsor, even though she was already planning to have her second child.

“You need to let an athlete know in September, October,” she said. “I’ve been calling [Asics] since September to be like, hey, I didn’t make the Olympic team, I’m 30, I’m going to have another baby.”

In the men’s 800m Thursday, two-time Olympian and 2013 World silver medalist Nick Symmonds was eliminated, 32nd-fastest of 33 runners in the first round.

Symmonds, in his final season, said he has one more race left — the Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 10.

MORE: Montaño finds little joy after Russian stripped of medals

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