Aug 22, 2014, 11:22 PM EDT
PITTSBURGH — John Orozco strode off the competition floor and behind a black curtain at the Consol Energy Center. He checked his phone, and he grinned.
“She’s been texting me the whole time,” he said.
Orozco methodically marched to a surprising all-around lead on the first night of men’s competition at the P&G Championships on Friday. But he’s also in a rush to finish, fly home to the Bronx and see the person on the other end of that messaging conversation.
Orozco scored 90.75 points over six routines, edging Olympic teammate Jacob Dalton by .5 for first place halfway through the competition to crown the U.S.’ best gymnast.
NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air coverage of the second half Sunday from 2:30-4 p.m. ET. Gymnasts are also competing to be selected for the six-man team for the World Championships in Nanning, China, in the fall.
Orozco’s backstory was well told during the London Olympics.
One of five children raised by Puerto Rican parents, his mom, Damaris, used to drive him daily from the Bronx to the hamlet Chappaqua for gymnastics practice, usually more than an hour away with traffic.
Orozco’s parents aren’t in Pittsburgh watching him compete this week. He prefers it that way.
Damaris, who has lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, is having trouble with one of her surgically replaced knees. A decade ago, doctors inserted a metal rod to help her walk. Now, the road is pushing her kneecap out to the side.
“They’ve been pushing [surgery] back for a month,” Orozco said. “They’ll push it back for another month unless they can somehow find money to pay for it.
“I’m going to give all the money I can so my mom can get this done with already. I’m so worried about her right now because I know she’s the kind to tough through it, even though it might not be smart for her to do it. She’s really tough, so I know she’ll push through it. I don’t want her to go through that right now.”
Orozco posted the highest scores on parallel bars (15.25) and high bar (15.7) Friday night. He did so with little pain, remarkable given his history.
The 2012 U.S. champion Orozco finished fourth in the all-around last year while wearing a knee brace after tearing an ACL and meniscus in October 2012. Orozco also tore an Achilles in 2010.
He was initially left off the 2013 World Championships team but added when 2011 U.S. champion Danell Leyva pulled out with a shoulder injury.
Orozco won bronze on parallel bars at Worlds, but another Olympic teammate, Sam Mikulak, had ascended to the top U.S. all-around threat. Mikulak beat Orozco at the American Cup in March.
Mikulak, the favorite coming into competition here, struggled on parallel bars and fell on his butt on floor exercise. He’s in fourth place, 2.35 points behind Orozco.
“It’s not over,” Mikulak said. “I’m excited to get out there and redeem myself.”
The men’s competition this weekend is bringing the gang back together. The entire 2012 U.S. Olympic team is here, including two-time Olympic medalist Jonathan Horton performing for the first time since London. He’s in 12th.
Leyva, Orozco and Horton all entered with points to prove, overcoming injuries or performance struggles. Orozco felt it.
“I was still kind of peeing my pants before some of the events that I was on,” he said, but adding, “it really felt like I was myself out there again.”
Orozco’s nerves were tested on the final event Friday. He went to the pommel horse, where he had fallen apart in the team final of the London Olympics, scoring 12.733 points two years ago. The U.S. team, which entered with medal expectations, finished fifth in London.
Orozco stayed on the horse this time, scoring 14.5 points (fourth out of 30 men).
After he dismounted, Leyva revealed to Orozco that his nightmarish pommel horse routine from the Olympics had played on the jumbotron before he went to perform.
“I’m really glad I didn’t see that before I went up,” Orozco said.
If Orozco finishes in the top two in the all-around after Sunday, and top three in at least three individual events, he will secure a spot on the World Championships team. The same team he initially didn’t make last year.
“All I can do is finish Sunday,” Orozco said, “and get home as fast as I can to help her out.”
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