Shawn Johnson won a gold medal and three silvers at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, but her inability to fully recover from a devastating knee injury forced her to retire earlier this month. Johnson spoke to LBS on Tuesday about her decision to retire, her experience at the 2008 Olympics, and what she plans on doing in the future.
Johnson spoke with LBS on behalf of Procter & Gamble, which is providing a $75,000 grant from the USOC’s P&G|Team USA Youth Sports Fund to benefit the USA Gymnastics Fitness Program. Procter & Gamble will also donate $1 to the USOC’s P&G|Team USA Youth Sports Fund for every follower the @thankyoumom Twitter account receives. Our interview is below.
LBS: What ultimately made you decide to retire earlier this month?
Johnson: It was kind of just sitting down and facing reality that we just ran out of time and my knee wasn’t allowing me to go any further. I knew the talent that was out there, and I knew that I wasn’t up to par. Giving my spot up to another girl that could potentially qualify at trials and make it was something I thought was best on both sides.
LBS: You said you ran out of time. Do you think things would have been different if there were more time to recover before the Olympics?
Johnson: Honestly, I don’t know. It’s hard to go through all the what-ifs, and I try not to do that because it can get you down on things. To say ‘What if I had another year?’ I don’t know what would happen. I don’t know if my knee would have healed better — I don’t know what would have happened. Everything happens for a reason, and not making the team and deciding to retire has been a blessing in disguise. It’s bittersweet, but things are working out for the best.
LBS: Has the time off been a break for you given how hard you’ve been working and training been all your life?
Johnson: Definitely. For the first time in 20 years I haven’t really focused on my training or a possible comeback. Starting a new chapter of my life is exciting. It’s terrifying because I don’t know what to do, but it’s fun. I’m trying all sorts of new things to try and figure out I want to do next.
LBS: You’re planning on going to college next fall. Do you know what you’re going to end up doing there?
Johnson: I think like any college student I’ll change my major a million times and find interest in things I’ve never explored before. Right now the plan is to study business or communications to try and help what I’m doing right now (in terms of speaking engagements/media work).
LBS: You’re going to be in London for the upcoming Summer Games. Is there anyone you’re expecting big things from, maybe someone we don’t know as much about?
Johnson: I think a competitor that’s gone unnoticed for a while who I really think has a great chance is McKayla Maroney. I’m a huge fan of her. I think her gymnastics is gorgeous, and it’s very unique and different. I really think she deserves a spot.
LBS: You recently spoke out about the criticism you faced about your weight. What has the feedback been like since you made those comments?
Johnson: It’s been nothing but positive feedback. Every once in a while people have something negative to say, but coming out and talking about that, I think I connected and related to a lot of people who had the same issue or have gone through things and kept it unspoken.
I think it’s a very prevalent issue and it goes on for girls and boys and people of all ages. It’s something that we need to put out in the limelight so we can work to fix it.
LBS: What’s it like going from being a gymnast known in the community to becoming nationally and internationally known?
Johnson: It’s not really something you think about. It’s not like the thought crossed my mind ‘I’m now known by millions of people across the world.’ I was in an arena like every other competition and just competing. Later on I guess it was overwhelming, but it’s exciting to have people supporting you, following your story and acknowledging you for all the hard work you put in.
LBS: Do you feel like you got out of gymnastics what you put in?
Johnson: And some. I feel like I worked really hard and sacrificed a lot, but I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities and success from it, so it was definitely worth it.
LBS: How was your experience at Beijing?
Johnson: It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and experience. I would give anything to go back and live it all again. That’s kind of been the defining point of my life.
LBS: I recently read about a “budding romance” you had with cyclist Taylor Phinney at the Olympics. Is that true?
Johnson: Uhh, kinda [embarrassed giggle]. Yeah, we were really good friends. There’s a lot going on at the Olympics and he was just one of those friends that went through everything with me. We’re represented by the same agent, we were introduced, and I guess you could say [that we had a budding romance].
LBS: Was that a one-time thing there, or do you still keep in touch?
Johnson: We still keep in touch. We’re really good friends. We’re not in a relationship, but we’re really good friends. I think we’ll forever be good friends because of the Olympics. It’s just the connection and a group of athletes that you have this bond with and relate to for the rest of your life.
LBS: What’s the camaraderie like with all the other athletes in the Olympic Village??
Johnson: It’s unreal. Walking around the Olympic Village knowing you’re in the company the world’s best, there’s such a respect for everyone you’re walking past. You’re kind of all sharing the same moment and pride and joy. For the first time kind of in your life, you’re among a bunch of people who really get what you’re going through. It’s a really cool feeling.
Photo Credit: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIREGoogle+