From the IG Vault: Getting to Know John Orozco
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Eighteen-year-old John Orozco qualified second to the men's all-around at the Tokyo World Gymnastics Championships, even though he still is not fully recovered from the torn Achilles' tendon he sustained a little over a year ago. He is a new face on a new U.S. men's team, which also finished second in the qualifications.

Orozco has been training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., since last December, and his current coach is Vitaly Marinitch. He says he will remain there until after the London Olympics, at which time he will decide about college.

The gymnastics world is likely to learn much more about this talented young gymnast in the coming year. But until then, the following profile, which ran in the October 2009 issue of International Gymnast, covers his early years in the sport.

HOLDING HIMSELF TO A 'HIGH STANDARD'

John Orozco has been opening eyes for a long time, and often because he’s been able to outshine older kids. When he was 8, Orozco, who already had his black belt in tae kwon do, tried out for the Sutton Gymnastics team in Manhattan. However, the minimum age was 9.

“As soon as [the owner] saw me try out he said I’ll be there on a full scholarship,” says Orozco, who will turn 17 on Dec. 30.

In less than a year, Orozco moved to World Cup Gymnastics in Chappaqua, N.Y., where he has developed considerably under Carl Schrade and Jason Hebert. Hebert still remembers Orozco’s first day in the gym.

“He just starts doing roundoff back handsprings across the floor, and we’re just like, ‘OK, we’ve got something here,’” Hebert says.

Did they ever. Orozco really blossomed in 2007, when he won his first of three consecutive U.S. junior titles. His most recent win came this past August in Dallas, where he also placed first on every event except vault.

Orozco tried to make the senior national team by competing on the second night, too, but he had one big mistake. “If he would have hit that pommel horse routine, I think he would have made the jump to senior team,” says Hebert, who was a collegiate gymnast at Syracuse.

Still, his 11th-place finish — out of 31 gymnasts who did the all-around — was impressive. Plus, he threw the most difficult parallel bars dismount of anybody in the meet: a full-twisting double back.

In a way, that jaw-dropping dismount has become a signature skill for Orozco, who first threw it a couple of years ago during a “new skills day” at a national team training camp. “It’s hard to train in the gym, especially at the end of a routine,” Hebert says. “I always tell him, ‘If you feel strong, then do it. And if you don’t feel strong, then do the double pike and try to stick that.’”

Asked to describe Hebert, the soft-spoken Orozco is extremely complimentary. “He’s great,” he begins. “He’s always pushing me in practice, making sure I’m always focused, and he supports me throughout every meet and really has my best interests in mind.”

And Hebert’s take on Orozco? “He goofs around a little in the gym, but not nearly as much as everyone else,” he says. “He’s pretty focused. He’s not a big cheerleader by word. What he does, the other guys just see that, and that speaks loudly for him.”

And with Orozco in his senior year at Bronx Academy and looking at colleges, Hebert understands he will most likely lose the best gymnast he’s ever coached.

“All I can do is just hope that whoever works with him would just help him reach his potential,” says Hebert, who adds that Orozco is considering Ohio State. “He really needs to be around other athletes that are going to push him.”

Until then, Orozco will continue to make the 30-mile commute with his mother, Damaris, from their Bronx home to World Cup. He trains from 5 to 9 p.m. during the school year, and from 1 to 5:30 p.m. during the summer. That’s not a lot compared with other elite gymnasts.

Aside from his sensational p-bars dismount, Orozco stands out for his rare balance as an all-arounder. While many past all-arounders have struggled on pommel horse, Orozco posted his highest score on that tricky event in Dallas on the first day of competition.

Asked if pommel horse is best event, and Orozco laughs. “Oh, no it’s not,” he says. “I actually surprised myself how well I did on pommels.”

Orozco claims his real weaknesses are on rings, where he says he needs more strength, and high bar, where he’d like more difficulty. But that’s nit-picking for a 16-year-old who still has time to develop both areas.

Fact is, Orozco is similar to a young Paul Hamm, who also was strong on every event. “As good as he is across the board, we have to build up more difficulty,” Hebert says.

In Dallas, Orozco tried some new things. He cruised through the junior session with little pressure from the rest of the field, and his only mistake came on his new vault, a handspring-front with a double twist (hand touch on the landing). He still won the meet by more than 3.0.

With such a margin of superiority, Orozco knows it’s best to just compete with himself.

“I wasn’t really focused on my scores,” he says. “I was more focused on hitting my routines, because I hold myself to a high standard and I know what I’m capable of.”

And it’s a treat for everyone else to just sit back and watch.

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