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Shawn Johnson Talks Gymnastics and Life After Competition

by and on October 03, 2013 6:12 AM

Penn State welcomed Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson to Eisenhower Auditorium Wednesday night as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series.

Johnson spoke to an awestruck crowd about her impressive achievements as an Olympian, Dancing with the Stars champion, and 2009 MLB Celebrity Softball Game participant (not to be ignored).

Johnson, clad in three-inch-high boots to slightly modify her 4'9″ build, stood in front of an audience of several hundred as she explained the difficulties and rewards of being a competitive gymnast, starting very young. She took up the sport at the ripe age of three, her Olympic aspirations began by the time she was 13. At age 16, when most people her age were basking in the glory of holding a valid driver's license in their hands, Johnson flew to the Beijing Olympics, going into the competition undefeated.

In China, Johnson competed against not only a quite possibly underage Team China, but Nastia Liukin as a fellow American teammate and her greatest competitor in the All Around competition. The crowd favorite to take the gold medal, Johnson found out mere seconds before her floor routine that the gold was in the hands of Liukin.

At age 16, Johnson felt in that moment as though she had disappointed the entire country. She noted that the president of the International Olympics Committee visibly looked "pained" to hang the silver medal around her neck. Additionally, the first question she was asked after the awards ceremony was "Shawn, how does it feel to lose?" to which Johnson replied, "I didn't lose. I won a silver medal for our country."

Johnson told the crowd of the recurring feeling of disappointing others, which happened once again in 2012 when she announced her retirement from gymnastics. Coming off of three silver medals at the Panamerican Championships and only a month away from selecting the Olympic team for the London Olympics, Johnson described her decision to retire as the as the most difficult one she ever made, "because the entire world was against (her) decision." She says it was a necessity.

"When I was 16, my life revolved around the Olympics," she says. "I was in the company of 16-year-old girls whose world revolved around the Olympics. For me, it didn't and it didn't seem fair. The best thing to do is to decide against what everyone else wants you to do, because that's the best thing you can do for yourself."

After competing in two seasons of Dancing with the Stars, Johnson enrolled at Vanderbilt University to earn a degree in sports psychology and nutrition. She expressed her strong desire to help young athletes, in particular gymnasts, dancers, cheerleaders, and ice skaters, through mentoring, nutritional education, and support.

Additionally, Johnson travels around the country promoting the Character Counts! program but more importantly, fighting the widespread notion that a silver medal isn't good enough. She says if a teenager can make it to the Olympics and win a silver medal, but is  faced with disappointment, then what we're teaching is wrong.

Her half hour long presentation concluded with a Q&A session, in which Johnson was asked questions ranging from gymnastics to love interests. She said prior to opening the floor to the audience that she cannot state if she is in a relationship or not, but nevertheless I've listed a couple of the more interesting questions below:

John-"Have you had ice cream at the Creamery?" Shawn-"No." John-"Will you go with me?" Shawn-"You have guts. Maybe. What's your name?" John- "John." Shawn-"John. I'm Shawn.""Will you follow me on Twitter?""Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte?" (Johnson prefers Michael Phelps, though she is close with the Lochte family.)

When asked if this will be her last time at Penn State, Johnson replied that she works at Camp Woodward located about 40 minutes outside of State College, and that she loves the University Park campus.

"There's a lot of kids here!"

This post was originally published by the staff at Onward State. Follow Onward State on Twitter @OnwardState.

Yuka Narisako is a Penn State engineering student who writes for Onward State.
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