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Gymnast John Orozco set to return from major knee injury

Jul 12, 2013, 5:21 PM EDT

John Orozco Getty Images

Reigning U.S. all-around gymnastics champion John Orozco will compete for the first time since the London Olympics this weekend.

Orozco and Olympic all-around bronze medalist Danell Leyva lead the field at a national qualifier in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Saturday and Sunday.

Their eyes are on the U.S. championships Aug. 15-18 in Hartford, Conn. At least 14 gymnasts from more than 70 will clinch berths for nationals based on a points ranking system.

The already qualified Orozco, 20, suffered a torn left ACL and associated meniscus damage on a parallel bars dismount during a post-Olympic USA Gymnastics tour in October. It’s the second major rehab for Orozco, who tore an Achilles in 2010.

Orozco will only compete in four events this weekend — high bar, parallel bars, pommel horse and still rings. He expects to be cleared to do full floor exercise and vault training in anticipation of doing all six events at nationals.

“It’s a competition to get back in shape and see where I’m at in competition, to get back into it instead of nationals being my first competition back,” Orozco said by telephone from Colorado Springs.

Orozco said his rehab and recovery from Nov. 9 surgery have gone to plan. He returned to gymnastics apparatus in February and started doing full skills about a month later.

The Bronx native learned from the previous Achilles injury not to dwell on the fact he would be out a prolonged period. He said, this time, the biggest disappointment was merely not being able to finish the tour with his teammates.

“I didn’t think it was that bad when I first hurt myself because I was able to walk away from it,” Orozco said of the October injury. “A few hours later … I knew that I was going to be out quite a while. I was thinking about how I could make (the rehab) go by faster, mentally preparing to get myself out of this depression you hit when you get injured and are out for a while.”

Orozco said he never thought about taking all of 2013 off, like so many Olympians have done who weren’t injured. He’s eager to compete yet has set modest goals. Rather than racking up more medals, he’s focused on making the national team and reaching the world championships in Antwerp, Belgium, in September and October.

“I’m not trying to give myself too many expectations,” he said. “I’m not going to be too hard on myself if my plans don’t work out.”

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