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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

Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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