Defending champ Orozco ready to complete comeback

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Sitting in a recovery room last October, his left knee an hour removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL, John Orozco listened to the doctors give him a timetable for when he could get back to work.

The usual path to recovery is about a year. If he ''pushed it'' there was a chance he could make it back in nine months.

Guess which option Orozco chose?

''I hate waiting,'' Orozco said. ''The longer I wait, the harder it is to come back. I just want to jump right back into it.''

True to his word, the 20-year-old returned to competition during a qualifying meet in Colorado on July 13, less than nine months after ripping up the knee during the post-Olympic tour. He competed in four of six events, skipping vault and floor exercise to allow the joint a little more time to heal. He tied for first on the still rings, an important step as he attempts to resurrect his career. Again.

Orozco shredded the Achilles tendon in his right foot in 2010. He recovered in time to make the 2011 national team that finished third in the world championships.

A repeat performance, however, looks like a long shot. Orozco arrived at the XL Center this week in preparation for the US men's national championships hoping only to get through the weekend healthy. Anything else at this point would just be greedy.

And for once, Orozco is OK with diminished expectations.

''I'm going to have a good time for once instead of stressing,'' Orozco said.

It's a marked change from Orozco's last major competition. He arrived in London last summer as one of the linchpin of a US team eager to challenge China and Japan for gold. It didn't happen. The US dominated qualifying but bonked in the finals, finishing fifth.

Things didn't get any better for Orozco in the all-around. He fell of pommel horse early in the night and never recovered, finishing eighth. The stunning result left him angry and more than a little lost. He punished himself by throwing himself back into training and attempting what he calls ''crazy'' stunts during the shows, tricks he had yet to perfect in practice.

It ended with him writhing on the ground in agony.

''I was doing all these insane things I wanted to put in my routine, as soon as possible,'' Orozco said. ''That's the time I should have been taking to rest and recover. It was not smart on my end. I'm learning.''

Ultimately, he chose to look at the injury as a blessing. It forced him to take the breather he desperately needed even if it meant the gap between himself and teammate and Olympic all-around bronze medalist Danell Leyva widened.

Leyva enters nationals hoping to keep Sam Mikulak and Jake Dalton from leapfrogging him to the top of the podium. Orozco enters looking to show the powers that be he deserves to be on the 2013 world championship team when it is announced next month.

''You never know what they're thinking,'' he said. ''I just want to show them I can compete.''

Even if it's not quite on the same level he was at last June, when he mounted a furious comeback on the second day of nationals to overtake Leyva on the final rotation. The moment is seared into his memory forever. His mother Damaris shrieked when the winning score while Orozco buried his face in his hands.

Good friend and US senior national teammate Josh Dixon found a picture taken at that exact instant and posted it in the locker room at the US Olympic Training Center to serve as motivation during Orozco's rehab.

Getting back to such heights might take time. Yet Orozco believes the question remains if, not when.

''Sometimes when you go through the competition, the prep time, it feels like you're not going to be ready,'' he said. ''Then at the last minute everything comes together. I trust in myself. I trust in my coach.''

By the end of the weekend, he hopes to trust his rebuild knee, too.


SCHOOL DAZE: Nastia Liukin is five years removed from the Olympic all-around gold medal she won in Beijing and trying to live the life of a normal college student.

Emphasis on trying.

Liukin completed her first semester at NYU this spring, working a demanding 18-hour course load in addition to her numerous business commitments. The pace, she allows, might have been too much. So is the process of roll call on the first day of class.

Even at a school like NYU, Liukin stands out. There's always that ''a ha'' moment from her classmates when her name is called. She deals with it by sitting in the back of the class anxiously waiting for the moment to pass.

''I just kind of raise my hand and wait for everybody to turn back around,'' she said with a laugh.

The 23-year-old is working toward a degree in sports management. Just don't expect her to become an agent. She's more interested in just learning the business so she can make more informed decisions about where to go with her own life.

This week, that life included an induction into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Liukin, four-time Olympic medalist Shawn Johnson and the other members of the 2007 gold-medal winning US world championship team - Ivana Hong, Alicia Sacramone, Bridget Sloan, Sam Peszek and Shayla Worley were inducted on Thursday night.

Tagged: Danell Leyva, Sam Mikulak, John Orozco

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