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Who is... John Orozco

John Orozco
2016 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Who is... John Orozco

The 2012 Olympic gymnast is back from a career-threatening injury and looking to win in Rio. 

Just a teenager at the London Olympics, U.S. gymnast John Orozco didn't have the competition he was hoping for. He walked away without any medals, but did gain the lasting sense of pride from representing Team USA--and the hunger to get another shot at Olympic glory in Rio. 

Gymnastics Beginnings 

"As a kid I was really weird. Like, I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be a dancer. I wanted to be a singer. I wanted to be a gymnast. I wanted to be a newscast reporter. I wanted to be everything. But I knew that gymnastics was definitely one of my passions that I wanted to pursue. And I had a lot of energy. But I wasn't very open. I was very shy. But if you told me to do something physical I could do it. And I would love it."

John Orozco

Growing up in the New York City borough of the Bronx, Orozco was an active child, getting his black belt in taekwondo before starting gymnastics at age 8. His career in the sport began when his father came across a flier for a free gymnastics lesson at a club in Manhattan.

"I remember running in and starting to tumble before the coach even told me anything," Orozco said. "After the tryout the owner of the gym called my parents into the office and told them I had tremendous talent."

Soon after, he started seriously training at a different gym, World Cup Gymnastics, in Chappaqua, New York. About an hour away from his family's home, his mother Damaris would drive him each way to practice six or seven days a week. As the family struggled to financially support Orozco's gymnastics career, young Orozco started working around the gym to fund his training. His coaches also helped, partially waiving the cost of lessons so he could keep training.

In 2010, Orozco moved to Colorado Springs, Colo. to train with the men's national team and live at the Olympic Training Center.  

"Growing up in the Bronx was very difficult for me and my family.  We didn't have a lot of money growing up. It was pretty rough neighborhood.  And especially being a gymnast it was kind of hard because it's not something you see every day, especially in the Bronx.  You get judged and you get teased a lot.  But I always had my family to back me. So it made it that much easier. And I think that without them I wouldn't be here today."

John Orozco

Breakout Moment

Less than a year out from the London Olympics, 18-year-old John Orozco arrived at the 2011 World Championships a relative unknown and untested talent. He proved himself as a gymnastics star in the making when he earned the second highest all-around score, second only to Japan's Kohei Uchimura, in the preliminary round. In the team final, Orozco competed on four events to help the U.S. men win a bronze medal. He then finished a respectable fifth in the all-around final.

His teammates gave shy Orozco the nickname "Silent Ninja," abbreviated to "sninja."  

"Because I don't talk a lot in the gym," Orozco explained, "and my demeanor in competitions is very unassuming until I sneak up on my competitors with high-difficulty routines and good execution, kinda like a ninja!"

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The next year, Orozco won his first national championships title, edging out Danell Leyva by 0.50 points. The two faced off again at the 2012 Olympic Team Trials, where Leyva came out on top. But based on their performances at Trials, both earned automatic berths onto the U.S. Olympic team. They were joined in London by Jonathan Horton, Sam Mikulak and Jake Dalton.

John Orozco after being named to the 2012 Olympic Team at the Olympic Team Trials

John Orozco after being named to the 2012 Olympic Team at the Olympic Team Trials. Credit: USA Today Sports

Olympic Experience

In his own words, the 2012 London Olympics were "bittersweet" for Orozco:

"Going in to the Olympics, I don't think I was prepared for the amount of pressure that I was under, especially with the media attention that I got, and my story, and my family. And it was pretty intense. But when I got there it was amazing because it really feels like wow, all the blood, sweat, and tears, all the sacrifices I made, all the sacrifices my family made, and all those years finally paid off.

It's the most amazing feeling when you get to the honor of competing for your country at the most prestigious sporting event in the world. So it's kind of bittersweet because there's so much glory in just going and competing, but then the part of not doing well for me was the bitter kind of moment. But getting there is what really counts. Because I gave it my all... It was a great honor and glory to be able to compete with the USA on my chest. I just wish that the result could have displayed that."

John Orozco

John Orozco leans on wall after the U.S. men finish fifth in the team final at the 2012 London Olympics

John Orozco after the U.S. men finished fifth in the team final at the 2012 London Olympics. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

In the qualification round, Orozco and the U.S. men hit nearly all of their routines and were the top qualifier to the team final by nearly three points. Individually, Orozco posted four scores over 15.0 points and qualified fourth to the all-around final.

But the rest of the competition didn't go as smoothly. In the team final, Orozco fell on the landing of his vault and then sat down during his pommel horse routine. The U.S. men finished fifth, a disappointing result after winning a team bronze at the previous year's world championships.

In the all-around final, Orozco again had a rough pommel horse routine and dropped down to 24th place in the 24-man final. But after shedding a few tears, Orozco regrouped and worked back up to eighth place by the end of the competition. 

Major Competitions and Medals

After tearing the ACL in his left knee in late 2012, Orozco spent most of 2013 recovering. He came back in time to make the world championships team in the fall of 2013. And while he wasn't healthy enough to compete in the all-around competition, Orozco proved he was in fighting shape by winning his first individual Worlds medal, a bronze on the parallel bars.

In 2014, Orozco won an all-around silver medal and the horizontal bars title at the P&G Championships. He wrapped up the season with another trip to the world championships, and added a second team bronze medal to his trophy case. 



From a national championship title and world championship medals to career-threatening injuries and family tragedy, Orozco's gymnastics career has been marked by dramatic ups and downs. But his one constant has been his resilience, as driven by his close family and fighting spirit.  

In 2007, then 14-year-old Orozco was competing at the junior national championships in California when he heard his father, back home in New York, had suffered a stroke. His mother insisted that Orozco keep competing, and he won the all-around title. It was the first of three straight junior all-around national titles.

John Orozco at the 2007 junior national championships

John Orozco competes at the 2007 junior national championships at age 14. Credit: USA Today Sports

In 2010, he tore his Achilles tendon on a vault landing during the preliminary round of the national championships. Orozco returned to competition the next year to be named to his first Worlds team and win a team bronze. 


His second devastating injury came in October 2012: a torn ACL while on tour post-Olympics performing in a gymnastics show. Again, Orozco came back strong and won parallel bars bronze at the 2013 Worlds.

Then came 2015. On Valentine's Day, Orozco's mother Damaris--his biggest fan and supporter, who drove hours each day to get young Orozco to gym practice--died unexpectedly. She had suffered form lupus and rheumatoid arthritis in the past.

John Orozco's parents at the 2012 Olympic Team Trials

John Orozco's mother and father celebrate after Orozco is named to the 2012 Olympic Team. Credit: USA Today Sports


A few months later, Orozco was struck by injury again. Another torn Achilles tendon, the summer before the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In an emotional Facebook post on June 18th, 2015, Orozco shared his grief and anguish.


That fall, in an interview at the NBC Olympics media summit, Orozco showed a different attitude.

"Well, I've fallen quite a bit in gymnastics," Orozco said. "So for me it's second nature. You can't stay down. It's just like life. What are you going to do when you fall, when you get knocked down in life? Are you going to stay there? No. Life keeps going. The world keeps spinning. And you've got to get up and get right back on your feet and get with it because you're going to get left there... But to me it's not even a thought. The minute you fall down you get right back up.

"But it's also important to be sad sometimes, you know? Like I was telling the other people, like, when you get injured and they're saying how do deal with that? 

"I said, well I'm a veteran at being injured and recovering because, like, when you get injured, it's okay to kind of wallow in your sadness, sulk in your sadness for a little bit. And then you say, okay, this pity party's over and time to get back to work. 


"Because if you don't acknowledge the fact that it hurts and it's devastating to work so hard for so many years to then have it all taken away from you just like that, and have to start over potentially, it hurts. And some people they try to speed right past that, but it doesn't work like that. You have to take time to be sad. You have to take time to be hurt and then get back with it.  Say, okay, here's my plan. 

"Like the minute I got hurt, I tore my Achilles and after two weeks of crying and asking God why this again, you know, after a third time, and then I started making notes. Saying, this is what I want to do in my routine 2016. This is the pommel horse routine I want. And I started working on conditioning, strengthening, stretching on my own, and little things like that to make sure that when I get back I can get into things."


Orozco's doctors told him it would take about a year to get back to full strength, which he knew was too long if he wanted to be Rio-ready. He dedicated himself to cutting his recovery time in half, and was back on the competition floor in early 2016. After a few meets on home soil, he traveled to Brazil in April for the Rio Test Event, a competition held in the Olympic Arena, where gymnastics will be contested during the Rio Olympics. He had a great competition, winning three medals: all-around bronze, pommel horse silver and high bar bronze.


Top Quotes

"One of my favorite memories from London is when I was checking into the Olympic village, I was going through security and someone was talking behind me to one of my teammates. And I heard a voice.  And I turned around and without thinking I said, 'Hey, what's your name?  I'm John.'  And she goes, 'I'm Serena Williams.'  And I'm like, 'Yes, I knew that but I just - I don't know why I said that.'

"But she was so nice.  She was so sweet.  And she just wished us luck, and she said that she saw Olympic Trials and everything.  We were talking a little bit.  And she's such an amazing and humble woman.  And just to think that you know people would kill to have the opportunity to meet her.  And I'm just like 'oh, what's your name?' But I think that's one of the most funny moments in the Olympic Village that I had."

Outside the Gym

When Orozco's gymnastics days are over, he hopes to take his talents to Hollywood.

"If I weren't an athlete, I think I would be working in the entertainment industry. There are a lot of things I can see myself doing. Acting in films, directing films, red carpet reporter, talk show host, music producer, musician, creative writer on TV show or dancer."

John Orozco

Orozco said he loves to start each day by singing and dancing a little bit.


He's already got an inside look at the music industry when he starred in the music video for the Gym Class Hero's song "The Fighter" in 2012.


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How to watch 

You can watch John Orozco at the 2016 Rio Olympics starting Wednesday, August 3rd as the U.S. men's gymnastics team begin podium training, a non-judged session to practice their routines before the competition begins. The U.S. men will go in subdivision 2, starting at 1:30pm ET. 

Orozco's Olympics will officially begin on Saturday, August 6th at 1:30pm ET in the men's qualification session.  

 The team final will take place on Monday, August 8th at 3pm ET

If Orozco qualifies for the all-around final, he will compete on Wednesday, August 10th at 3pm ET

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