Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Bronx native John Orozco an unlikely gymnastics star

By Jason Carroll and Vivienne Foley, CNN
updated 2:00 PM EDT, Thu July 26, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gymnastics wasn't a popular pursuit for a kid from the Bronx
  • Classmates teased John Orozco for "leaping around in ladies' tights"
  • At 10, he told his parents he wanted to be in the 2012 Olympics
  • Orozco may be the best hope for a U.S. gold medal in gymnastics

New York (CNN) -- John Orozco won his first medal in gymnastics when he was 9. But he didn't hold onto that medal for long, giving it to another boy in the competition who was in tears after being teased for a bad performance.

"He walked over to the kid that they were making fun of, and he said, 'Here you go,' and he took his medal off and put it around the kid and said, 'One day you'll be better than I am. Don't cry,' " says his mother, Damaris Orozco, who still gets choked up recalling that gesture.

"That's John. That's what he does. It's who he is."

That same Puerto Rican boy from the Bronx is now 19 and has made it all the way to the London Olympics. His heart is set on winning a gold medal -- this one for his country. He may be the best hope for a U.S. gold medal in gymnastics in 2012.

Damaris Orozco says that she and her husband, William, are thrilled but not surprised their son made the Olympic team. "When that little boy told us when he was 10 years old, 'I want to go to 2012,' we believed him."

Orozco on tough times in the Bronx

John Orozco started down the path to the Olympics when he was 7. His father, who was a sanitation worker, saw a flier offering free gymnastics classes and signed him up. Orozco has never looked back.

"The minute I stepped foot in the gym I just loved it. I knew it was what I wanted to do for a long time," Orozco says.

His Olympic dream was inspired by the Hamm brothers at the 2004 Olympics.

By the time he was 14, he was fully committed to getting to the Games. "I said I really want to have that one day -- to put the gold medal around my neck, waving to the crowd, knowing that all my hard work has paid off and my dream has come true," he said.

Gymnastics wasn't a popular pursuit for a kid from the Bronx, and he hasn't forgotten the ridicule from schoolmates teasing him for "leaping around in ladies' tights."

\
"The minute I stepped foot in the gym I just loved it," says John Orozco, who trained five or six days a week growing up.

"They just didn't understand everything that went into gymnastics. All the work, all the hours, all the blood, sweat and tears." Besides, he jokes, "Look at me. I'm 5-foot-5, 5-foot-4. Can you imagine me being a basketball player?"

To get the level of coaching her son required, his mother drove him to and from a gym in Chappaqua, New York, an hour away, often twice a day. By 9, he was training four hours daily five and often six days a week.

"When he needed it, we'd give him a day off, but he usually didn't want to take a day off," his former coach Carl Schrade says.

Schrade often trained Orozco for free since there wasn't money to pay for coaching. "With a gymnast like that, you don't think twice about it," Schrade says.

Schrade started having big dreams for Orozco by the time the boy was 10. It's rare to find the perfect balance of strength and grace in a boy, Schrade says, but on top of all that, you need discipline and drive, and he says Orozco had both.

Orozco celebrates after being named to the U.S. Olympics gymnastic team in San Jose, California.
Orozco celebrates after being named to the U.S. Olympics gymnastic team in San Jose, California.

"People ask me if he's a once in a lifetime gymnast, and I joke around and say he's a once in a hundred lifetimes gymnast," Schrade says.

Vitaly Marinitch, his coach at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado where he has been training for more than a year, says Orozco's combination of talent, "cat-like" moves and hard work make him a contender for a medal in London.

"We're aiming for gold. We'll see what happens," Marinitch says.

Orozco says he's feeling no pressure as he faces the biggest athletic stage of his life.

"I kind of feel like there's more pressure at the Olympic trials to make the team, and now it's kind of like, it's a sigh of relief. Now I can just go and do my gymnastics and have fun," he says.

To his mother, he's already won the gold.

"The person that he is, the heart that he has, the dreams that he has, he's a gold winner already so anything on top of that is just gravy," she says.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:53 AM EDT, Mon August 13, 2012
The moment that Team GB's Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters was a wonderful collision of electricity.
updated 11:34 AM EDT, Mon August 13, 2012
His blistering pace and larger-than-life antics made him the king of the track in London, and bolstered his claims to be a "living legend."
updated 5:44 AM EDT, Tue August 14, 2012
Disappointment for Nigeria's Muizat Ajoke Odumosu, who came last in the 400m hurdles final, London 2012 Olympics.
The Olympics are generally won and lost long before the opening ceremony cauldron is touched by fire.
updated 3:38 AM EDT, Sun August 12, 2012
Fans of the home side, Team GB, wave Union Jack flags during the Olympic Games
CNN's Richard Quest believes the London Games will be regarded as having brought the Olympics concept home.
updated 12:33 PM EDT, Sat August 11, 2012
Strategist Alastair Campbell says he never imagined London 2012 would be quite the triumph it turned out to be.
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Tue August 14, 2012
Award-winning director Danny Boyle celebrates the best of British music in London 2012's Olympic Closing Ceremony.
updated 9:52 AM EST, Thu January 31, 2013
From Usain Bolt's record-setting achievements to an unexpected Ugandan gold, London 2012 has provided a wide array of highlights.
updated 11:05 PM EDT, Sun August 12, 2012
CNN's Amanda Davies recaps the London 2012 Olympics from the opening ceremony on July 27 to the finale on day 16.
updated 1:02 PM EDT, Sun August 12, 2012
Mo Farah and Usain Bolt celebrate their success at the London 2012 Olympic Games by copying each other's
It's been just over two weeks since the Queen parachuted into London's Olympic Stadium, her apricot dress flapping in the breeze.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Wed August 15, 2012
When the world's top marathon runners bid to win Olympic gold, they would do well to draw inspiration from one of the greatest athletes in the history of track and field.
updated 12:33 PM EDT, Sat August 11, 2012
Team GB supporters with their faces painted in Union Jack designs at the Olympic Stadium in London.
Alastair Campbell always thought London 2012 would be a success, but never imagined it would be quite the triumph it has turned out to be.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
Adrien Niyonshuti is unlikely to win an Olympic medal, and he will do well to even finish his event, but his story is surely one of the most inspirational.
updated 12:05 PM EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
The colors of the Olympic Rings at the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, August 2012.
Olympic fever has cheered up London and made it a more welcoming place, but will optimism be one of the legacies of the Games?
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
Wojdan Shaherkani's Olympic debut was short, but sweet -- the Saudi judoka said competing at the Games was
London 2012 is the first Olympics to feature women in every national team, with Jacques Rogge hailing a "major boost for gender equality."
updated 8:40 PM EDT, Thu August 9, 2012
An impoverished South Korean gymnast has not only struck Olympic gold, but also reaped a $444,000 donation in a veritable rags to riches tale.
updated 8:46 PM EDT, Wed August 8, 2012
Britain's hero Jessica Ennis is set to cash in after winning heptathlon gold, but the poster girl of the 2012 Olympics says fame is not her motivation.
updated 3:46 AM EDT, Wed August 8, 2012
China is rallying around fallen hurdler Liu Xiang after he failed to make it past the first-round heat for a second consecutive Olympics.
updated 3:30 PM EDT, Fri August 3, 2012
The first woman to win Olympic gold almost died in a plane crash, but remarkably returned to run again for the U.S. in 1936.
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Tue August 7, 2012
Don Paige could not bear to watch the race he knew he could win. The 1980 Moscow Olympics were the death of a dream for many athletes.
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Sat August 4, 2012
Ricardo Blas Jr
While Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt grab the headlines, little-known athletes from around the world keep alive the original spirit of the Olympics.
Athletes spend years eating the right foods ... and then must resist the free fast food in the Olympic village. How do they do it?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT