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John Orozco: Destination World Championships

By John Orozco, 2012 U.S. Olympic Gymnast | Aug. 27, 2014, 12:35 p.m. (ET)

Before heading to the P&G Gymnastics Championships this year, my mind was preoccupied with concerns for my mother’s physical health. For a few months now, my mother has been dealing with excruciating pain in her knee. The metal rod inside her knee from a surgery she had 10 years ago started to push her kneecap out of place every time she walks or stands. It has been hard training for nationals knowing that she is suffering and I can’t be there to help.

“Don’t worry about me, just focus on your meet. I wish I could be there to see you compete, but go out there and do your best.” Those were my mom’s words of encouragement before I flew from Colorado Springs to compete at the 2014 P&G Gymnastics Championships.

Pittsburgh was the host city for nationals this year and the venue was the CONSOL Energy Center. I walked in for the first official training day at the competition arena, which most of the gymnasts call “podium training.” Bright lights, big TV screen and seeing all the guys warming up for practice on the big blue floor was all very familiar. Then in my head I heard the announcer’s voice “Your 2014 men’s senior national champion…JOHN OROZCO” and I pictured myself on the podium saluting to the crowd with a big smile accompanied by applause and cheers. It may sound crazy, but more often than not I tend visualize moments in my life as if it were a movie. After that short scene ended in my imagination, it was time for my team to line up for practice. My coach, Vitaly Marinitch, lines the team up to say a few words before every practice and competition. His nonchalant demeanor and stoic attitude usually help make the atmosphere of high level competitions seem a little less nerve-wracking.

After a few solid training sessions throughout the week, it was time for Day 1 of competition. Warm-up ends as the crowd files in and the athletes line up just outside the competition floor to get ready for the march out. One of my favorite parts of big competitions is when we line up to march out. We’re usually behind a big curtain where the crowd doesn’t see us. It’s the time when most of us realize we trained very hard to get where we are. We start cracking jokes with each other to keep the mood light, give good-luck high fives, and have casual conversations before we go into competition mode. I said a short prayer to myself before marching out and before I knew it the Day 1 competition was over and I was sitting in first place in the all-around. I was so happy! I went back to my hotel room, danced in my room alone and thanked God for the successful performances.

In between the competition days as a member of Team Hilton HHonors, I was able to do an autograph signing for the fans in Pittsburgh. The best part about signings is when the children’s faces light up and you get to make them happy just by giving them a high five or talk to them. After my Hilton signing, I got to spend time with my two older brothers, Erik and Manny, who drove from New York to watch me compete. Lunch with them was a great way to relax for a short period before the second day of competition. My brothers always crack me up because what they see from the stands is different from what I see or the judges see. The best is when they try to explain a skill that they saw and liked: “You know the one when you twist your body in the air backwards,” to which I reply, “That doesn’t really narrow it down” and we share a laugh.

Day 2 rolls around and it’s time for competition again. I started on pommel horse this time. I was nervous chalking up to mount the horse, but then I thought to myself “Well I just did this two days ago, I should be able to do it right now.” Then after a “hit” pommel horse routine, I had a great rings routine! Vault on the second day of competition was in no way a good vault, but thankfully I landed on my feet. After a big significant setback due to my low vault score, I began to glance at the scores of other gymnasts in hopes to maintain my first all-around placement from the previous competition day (since the scores carry over). After vault was parallel bars, which was going well until I thought to myself (while I was in a handstand on the parallel bars) “Ok, so two more skills and I should still be in the top two.” Then another big mistake that cost me. I was disappointed that I didn’t keep focused on my routine and stay in the moment. After that mistake I told myself “No more calculating placements or scores while I’m up there, just focus on each skill one at a time and the result will speak for itself.” Then I completed the best high bar routine I’ve ever done in my life, finishing the competition with an exceptional floor routine.

After the competition was over, it was time for awards. I then remembered the voice of the announcer in my head when I came in for my first practice at the arena and it was just as I imagined it. The event I won was high bar and I was standing on the first-place podium…smiling. I saw my brothers after the competition, and one of the first things Erik told me was “Dude, I’ve never seen you smile that much in competition!” I laughed and said “I was smiling?!?” After the competition ended, I went out for a celebratory dinner only to discover via Twitter that I was named to the 2014 world ceam for the U.S. This year’s nationals was an incredible experience and I can’t wait to represent Team USA at the 2014 World Championships in Nanning, China, Oct. 3 -12!

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John Orozco