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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

John Orozco: I don’t want to end my career on a low note

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Two months ago, John Orozco said that if USA Gymnastics cleared him to perform on its post-Olympic tour, it “will most likely be my last showing of my gymnastics career.”

Orozco did join the tour in October for its final run of cities, ending Sunday, following withdrawing from the Olympic team in July after tearing his left ACL for a second time.

Now that the post-Olympic tour is finished, Orozco says he’s not sure he’s done after all. He would like to return to competition, according to USA Gymnastics.

“It’s a big question mark,” Orozco said, according to the national governing body. “I feel like I don’t want to end my career on a low note.

“I want to see what happens when I get back to 100 percent healthy and see how I feel about competing then. It’s easier to make a decision when I’m fully healthy.”

Orozco, 23, came back from a tragic 2015, the loss of his mother and a potentially career-ending injury, to make his second Olympic team on June 25. Tears streamed in his first interview after being named to the five-man Rio squad.

Orozco went into the Olympic Trials in a precarious position, after placing 10th in the all-around at the P&G Championships three weeks earlier.

Orozco delivered on his best events at Trials — high bar and parallel bars — and was sturdy enough on pommel horse to earn a Rio berth.

But on July 15, Orozco tore his left ACL, just as he did in October 2012. He was replaced on the Olympic team by Danell Leyva.

Orozco has since undergone two surgeries, according to his social media.

Leyva, a three-time Olympic medalist, said he will focus on an acting career in California but isn’t ruling out a gymnastics return. The other four members of the U.S. men’s team that finished fifth at a second straight Olympics — Sam Mikulak, Jacob Dalton, Alex Naddour and Chris Brooks — said they hope to continue to compete, according to USA Gymnastics.

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I'm beyond devastated to say that my road to Rio has come to an abrupt end. Last week during Olympic Team camp, I re-tore my ACL/meniscus. At this point of my life I'm reminded of one word that I learned from my favorite book (The Alchemist) "Maktub" which in Arabic means "It is written" (meant to be) and like the common theme of the book I truly believe the universe conspires to guide us to our destiny with what we perceive as coincidences, signs, and omens. It's clear to me now more than ever that my dreams of Olympic gold were never meant to be, but maybe I have a different purpose that has yet to reveal itself? I'm forever grateful for the opportunities gymnastics has given me in life, the amazing people I've met through my career in the sport, and the life lessons I've learned. I'm humbled by the unwavering love and support of my family, friends, coaches, USA medical staff, personal doctors, and fans. Tragedy seems to be a reoccurring theme in my life, but looking back on my career I wouldn't change a single thing.

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John Orozco tears ACL, replaced by Danell Leyva on U.S. Olympic team

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John Orozco tore the ACL and meniscus in his left knee during training on Friday, knocking him out of the Rio Games, USA Gymnastics announced Friday. Danell Leyva will take his spot on the Olympic team.

The injury took place on a horizontal bar dismount during the team’s training camp in Colorado Springs. Orozco suffered the same injury to the same knee in October 2012.

Leyva, the 2012 Olympic all-around bronze medalist, won the horizontal bar silver medal at the 2015 World Championships, his fifth World medal. But he was named an alternate for the 2016 Olympic team after Trials last month.

It’s another devastating blow to Orozco, who’s had to deal with more than his fair share of trials in the past few years. His mother, Damaris, suffered from health problems including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. She died in February 2015.

Then, in June 2015, Orozco tore his right Achilles for a second time. A doctor told him he’d be out about one year, but Orozco cut that timetable in half and competed at Trials. He earned an Olympic berth on the strength of his best events, high bar and parallel bars.

“If you can hear me mom,” a tearful Orozco said afterward, “I love you.”

“It is always difficult to replace an Olympic team member,” said Kevin Mazeika, the national team coordinator for the U.S. Men’s National Team, in a release. “John’s injury is unfortunate and heartbreaking news, but he is handling the situation like the true professional and champion that he is.  He’s fully supporting the team and its goals moving ahead.”

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