John Orozco is preparing for his second shot at Olympic gold as part of Team USA. The Bronx-born 22-year-old became the youngest male gymnast to win the Junior U.S. National all-around championship in 2007, and won repeat titles in 2008 and 2009, solidifying himself as the future of the sport in America. Orozco then became the 2012 National all-around champion and was a leader on Team USA during their disappointing showing at the London Games. A left knee injury kept him out of competition in 2013, but he's been on a roll since last season, earning medals at events from Pittsburgh to Glasgow. Orozco took some time away from working out at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to talk about how he's helping Team USA raise funds through its new registry, training at altitude, and how his workouts are evolving heading into Rio for next summer's Games.
How much does it cost for an athlete to compete at an Olympic level?
The common misconception is that Americans usually think that athletes, when they get to the Olympics, are very rich and we've got all the money in the world. But they actually don't know what it takes for us to go to the Olympics, especially if we're not born into a wealthy family. It takes an average of $40,000 to send an athlete to the Olympic Games, and most U.S. athletes earn $20,000 a year. There are a lot of expenses that come into the works.
How does the Team USA Registry help Olympic athletes?
It's something that really opens up Americans' eyes and shows them what it really takes for athletes to make it to the Olympics. On the registry you can search around and buy symbolic gifts for athletes in exchange for helping them out. You can pick pommel handles or uneven-bar grips, and your donation would go straight to the annual USA fund and get circulated throughout the entities of all the sports. Ultimately, you're helping out the USA athletes. It's a great way for spectators and fans of Team USA to really get closer with the athletes and feel like they’re really helping out and part of the team effort.
How did you get involved in gymnastics?
I started when I was eight years old. My dad really got me into it. I was in New York and I actually tried out for a class in Manhattan. It was really expensive, but the first class was free just to try out as a test. But luckily my parents had a meeting with the owner of the gym, and they thought that I had a gift, and they agreed to train me free of charge. So it was a pretty good start to my career in the beginning.
What’s your typical training like?
As an elite athlete, your sport is like your job and you have to make sure that you're doing everything in the gym to make sure you're preparing yourself correctly for competition. I usually train about five hours a day. I get up in the morning, and at 9:30 a.m. practice starts, and I go to about noon, and then I get in at 3:30 p.m. again and train until 6:00 p.m. In-between the practices, I’m studying or resting or eating, so there's really not much to it. Gymnastics is very different from a lot of sports. You just have to go on the grind and do the same old skills day in and day out and make sure you're prepared for all your competitions.
How does training in Colorado Springs impact your stamina?
Training is pretty tough on the body, but actually being here is a good advantage because you're really high up in the mountains and the altitude affects us physically. So when we go down somewhere at sea level, we feel a lot better and we can go for a lot longer. I've noticed that in my performances. Some people might not notice it, but I think it's really great to train somewhere like Colorado, because all the athletes are Olympic caliber, and it's just great to train in an environment like that.
How are your workouts evolving as you get closer to the Rio Games?
Usually this year, which is the year before the Games, is like the clean-up year. You have your routine set and all your difficulties set, and then you only work on consistency to make sure that you're just that much more prepared for the Olympics. Pretty much the name of the game in the Olympics is consistency. I think last year was about the big skills and showing your potential, and now everyone has to really focus on being clean and consistent to make the Olympic team.
How has competing in London 2012 helped prepare you for 2016?
London taught me a lot. It didn't go as well as I'd wanted, but it's the experience I'm glad I had, because now if I go to the next Olympics, I’ll know what to expect and I'll be prepared mentally. Actually, it was very overwhelming and it was hard for me to take it all in and focus, but I think now going to this next stage, I'll be prepared and hopefully ready to make it on the podium. That's the ultimate goal for Team USA.
What's the biggest challenge in competing at the Olympics?
When I was in London, I was watching the opening ceremonies and I just got this super-nervous tick in my stomach that I'd never felt before. It was like, "Wow, I'm about to compete at this competition that I've been training all my life for and it's in less than eight hours." It's a creepy feeling when you're actually there and you're realizing, "How did 12 years just fly by?" and I’m at this moment right now. For me, I couldn't even think. I was just so overwhelmed, and it's so many emotions at once that you have to let it all go and just enjoy yourself. Because it was my first Olympics, I didn’t realize that’s how I should handle it. I thought I just had to be perfect and make it count and that I had to make sure I medaled. But at that point, there's nothing you can really do besides enjoy yourself and compete.