John Orozco's resilience helped the gymnast qualify for a second U.S. Olympic team. He'll need to rely on it yet again if he wants to keep competing in his star-crossed career.
Orozco tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee for a second time during training this week and will miss the Rio Games. The 23-year-old injured the knee during a high bar dismount and an MRI exam revealed the extent of the damage. He will be replaced on the five-man team by 2012 Olympic all-around bronze medalist Danell Leyva.
"It is always difficult to replace an Olympic team member," national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika said in a statement. "John's injury is unfortunate and heartbreaking news, but he is handling the situation like the true professional and champion that he is. He's fully supporting the team and its goals moving ahead."
Orozco was a rising star four years ago, winning the national championship and qualifying for the men's all-around final. He tore the ACL in his left knee for the first time during the post-Olympic exhibition tour in the fall of 2012, but returned to win medals at both the 2013 and 2014 world championships. The New York native's path to another Olympic team, however, endured a pair of painful setbacks in 2015. His mother Damaris, long his biggest supporter, passed away on Feb. 14, 2015, and he tore the Achilles in his right leg for a second time that summer.
Orozco admitted to wondering if he wanted to keep competing after tearing the Achilles. He returned to competition over the winter and his steady improvement on pommel horse, high bar and parallel bars — events he trained on even as he rehabbed the Achilles — helped him earn a spot on the 2016 Olympic team as an event specialist.
Now that role will fall to Leyva. He said after earning bronze at the 2012 Olympics that he'd set his sights on all-around champion Kohei Uchimura of Japan. But he briefly lost his spot on the national team before earning it back in 2014. He won a pair of world championship medals in 2014 and added a silver medal on high bar in Glasgow last fall.
Leyva struggled early in the Olympic team selection process and was initially named an alternate along with Donnell Whittenburg and Akash Modi. Now he'll head to Rio hoping to make an impact on a team that faded to fifth in the team final in London after posting the top score during qualifying.