Shawn Johnson has had us on the edge of our seats long before Dancing With The Stars. Like most of America, we were glued to our TVs during the 2008 Beijing Olympics when she took home a gold and three silver medals. A ski injury shortly after, though, forced the bubbly gymnast into announcing an her early retirement. Johnson may have been sidelined from defending her title last summer in London, but this optimist has yet to lose that infectious grin or love for fitness.
Two seasons of DWTS as a Season 8 winner and All-Stars runner-up introduced the Olympian to a new type of exercise, sparking an interest in other athletic ventures and a healthy lifestyle revamp. Now, at 21-years old, Johnson is stronger than ever. We talked to her about transitioning into the new gymnastics-less phase of her life, going Paleo and body love. Here’s what we landed:
What is the hardest part about being an Olympic athlete?
For me, the hardest part changes all the time, looking back on it. I feel the hardest part of being an Olympic athlete is just the discipline, especially in gymnastics—we’re so young. We start training when we’re three years old. We start living in the gym 40 hours a week when we’re eight. Just kind of taking that whole normal childhood experience away and being an Olympic athlete—I mean it takes a lot of mental and physical power and being able to be 16 and stand on the Olympic podium and have the mental strength to handle that pressure. I don’t honestly even know how I did it back then because I feel like now I’m like, ‘I could never do that!’
Favorite Olympic moment—spill!
I would say outside of the competition, my favorite moment was in the Olympic Village. Everybody was lining up to walk through opening ceremonies—the gymnasts aren’t really allowed because we compete the next day—I saw towering over everybody was Yao Ming. I was starstruck, no joke. I ran from my team, who was headed back to their dorms. I wanted a picture so bad and I remember I literally was tapping on his thigh like looking up at him and he never paid attention. He probably thought I was a fly on him or something!
How has your workout changed since the Olympics and DWTS?
My workouts have changed drastically. I’m no longer in the gymnastics gym. Honestly, it’s kind of a big goal and new learning experience for me. I feel like as soon as gymnastics was over, I made it a point to not go back into the gym so I could learn how to do workouts and train and stay healthy outside of it. It’s kind of a therapeutic thing almost. It’s closure almost. But I work with one of the best trainers ever—she’s like my best friend—Jeanette Jenkins.
If you’re a fitness fanatic like myself, I’m sure you’re glued to your TV (or two computers streaming live and one delayed TV broadcast!) for all things happening in London. For the first time ever, I’m proud to say that I rarely got up from my couch this weekend because I was so tuned in to the Olympic events—go Team USA! The “Fab 5″ US gymnastics team this year are absolutely phenomenal (not to mention so damn cute!). I’m in awe every time they run, flip, jump, twist and land on their two feet so beautifully. While the USA is edging forward toward a team gold, one of the biggest upsets in what’s sure to be gymnastics history happened yesterday too.
Jordyn Wieber, the reigning World Champion in the all-around division, was pushed out of the all-around finals, after placing third behind her two teammates, main rival 16-year-old Gabby Douglas and best friend and Olympic-village roommate, 18-year-old Aly Raisman. Leading up to the London Games, not much was said about team captain Aly, as the attention was mainly focused on Jordyn and Gabby, the teammates openly vying for the coveted All-Around Champion Title (an Olympic win in this category—in which gymnasts’ scores for all four events, vault, uneven bars, beam and floor routine are combined—is considered the mother of all titles to win). As the media coverage on Jordyn and Gabby picked up speed, finally coming to a head during Sunday’s preliminary events, no one predicted this outcome would happen.
Some might say that Jordyn simply had a bad day, making a few uncharacteristic mistakes on beam and the floor routine, or you could say that Aly truly shined under pressure, but one thing’s for sure, poor Jordyn Wieber was knocked out of USA’s top two spots and excluded from the all-around finals competition. Due to a rule that says each country can only send two gymnasts from their team into this competition, she will not be able to advance, even though Jordyn is ranked 4th overall (only two-tenths of a point behind teammate Gabby). As I watched this play out on TV, I was in awe and heartbroken to see Jordyn’s dreams collapse in front of billions of people. I just wanted to jump through my screen and give the girl a hug! This athlete handled herself with such grace and maturity, finally speaking to the media after her tears slowed down.
Is it fair that she should be locked out of this competition, when other gymnasts scoring much lower than her will be able to move ahead? If it’s truly a competition on the all-around champion (the best of the best!), then how can these ladies be judged fairly when they will not be going against one of the best?
Since I’m not a pro on all things gymnastics, I got on the phone with Olympian Shannon Miller, who is the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history and one part of the ’96 Atlanta Games “Magnificent 7″. Shannon, who is an expert analyst for Yahoo Sports, is in London and was there for this exhilarating day. Read more
Next Tuesday, the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team will go for the gold in the Team Finals. (Yes, we’re already counting down.) And while Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin may have recently retired from gymnastics, she’s as busy as ever! We caught up with her for a few minutes to find out her predictions for the upcoming Games, her future plans, and more.
The gymnastics career you saw flourish on the bars, beam, vault and floor at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games began at the tender age of three for Dominique Moceanu. As part of the “Magnificent Seven” she took home gold and inspired countless young gymnasts around the world.
One of the girls who idolized Moceanu, Jennifer Bricker, had much more in common with the medal-winning athlete than she could have ever dreamed. The two were in fact sisters—Bricker had been given up for adoption at birth after being born without legs. Despite growing up in separate households, both participated in and loved gymnastics. The pair reunited in 2007 after Bricker found legal documents and shared them with Moceanu (who confronted her parents for the truth).
Now, Moceanu is sharing details about this experience, her time training as an all-star gymnast and more in her new memoir, Off Balance. We sat down with her while she was in town with the sister she was raised with, Christina, to learn about her new book and who she thinks will strongly represent the U.S. in gymnastics at the London Olympics.
We can’t wait to ask: Which athletes do you think will lead the way in London next month?
Team USA won the last world championship, so the gold is theirs to lose. There have been a lot of individual stars in recent years, but now they have a strong team and new coaches. Jordyn Wieber is solid mentally and a tough competitor. Gabrielle Douglas is a shining star, who is coached by [Liang] Chow, Shawn Johnson’s coach. Alicia Sacramone is a friend of mine, so I’ll be watching in the wings and cheering her on. We’ll see if Nastia Liukin can make the team as a specialist in bars and beam. At this point, it’s all about staying healthy.