On Friday, Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson made her BTN debut as the analyst for the Illinois women’s gymnastics meet vs. Iowa. Johnson, born and raised in Des Moines, IA, took the nation by storm during the 2008 Summer Olympics when she captured four medals, including gold on the balance beam. Six years have passed since returning from Beijing, but Johnson has never stepped out of the limelight. Now Johnson begins this exciting new chapter in her life as a BTN analyst, in which she will be on the call for a number of upcoming meets and the Big Ten Women’s Gymnastics Championships on March 22.
Before Friday’s action got underway, I had a few minutes to talk to Shawn about her exciting journey and what she expects to accomplish in the coming years.
Extra Points: When did you first realize your dream of becoming an Olympic gymnast may be an obtainable reality?
Shawn: I think it came a lot later than most people probably expect. I remember when I went to the American Cup at the age of 12 or 13, at first I felt like I had no business competing against these girls who were already members of the National Team, but when I won, I realized I could do this if I stayed focus and kept pushing.
Extra Points: Just a few weeks ago, a number of athletes were notified that they had been selected for the upcoming winter Olympics. What do you remember most about the emotions you were feelings when you were selected?
We all lined up and the coach literally just goes down the line and points at you if you’ve been selected. When I was pointed at, I took the biggest sigh of relief. It’s a long and stressful process, but being selected is truly the first step toward the dream.
Extra Points: You just turned 22 a few weeks ago, but already accomplished a lifetime of achievements that include Olympic medals, a New York Times best-selling book, and now a BTN broadcaster – what goals do you have for yourself both short-term and long-term?
Shawn: I’ve turned the page and I’m starting a new chapter. I’m going to be studying sports psychology and dietetics at Vanderbilt University, but I want to take the time to try and figure out what I want to do going forward. I look at BTN as a huge launching pad because I’ve always wanted to get into TV, and maybe hosting. I’m really excited.
Extra Points: What is it like being on the opposite side now – a member of the media opposed to the athlete? What is it like watching others compete?
Shawn: I’m nervous, and it feels a little weird. To be honest, it’s like mass confusion. I miss competing, and I’d love to put the leotard on and go back out there, but it’s great to still be a part of the sport I’ve lived and breathed my entire life. Sometimes I just want to run up and give one of the girls a hug, because I can relate to everything they’re going through.
Extra Points: Olympic medalist, “Dancing with the Stars” champion – you’re obviously a competitor. What type of activities are you doing in your free time nowadays to satisfy your urge to compete?
Shawn: Unfortunately, I’ve been in and out of injuries so I’ve been spending most of my time and effort just trying to get healthy and allow my body to heal. The good news is I was just cleared and can begin training. My fitness goals are to complete a marathon, a triathlon and an Ironman.
Extra Points: We at BTN are really proud of the commitment we’ve made to women’s sports – since launch BTN has produced just under 2,000 women’s events. As a female athlete how important do you feel it is for the youth population and aspiring female athletes to see such a strong representation of women’s sports on TV?
Shawn: I think it’s very important, and it’s something that hits really close to home for me. There are so many pre-existing stigmas out there about the definition of beauty, but in my opinion there is nothing more attractive than a fit, competing athlete. When it comes to this type of thing, I’ve often times been the center of attention, but my message is always the same, I encourage girls that being different is a good thing.