Gold medal gymnast Shawn Johnson discusses ‘incredible’ feeling of representing USA in Olympics

May 16, 2024
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It’s been 16 years since Shawn Johnson, then just a 4-foot-11, 16-year-old, won the hearts of Americans by winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Johnson was the gold medalist on the balance beam and earned three silvers in the floor, all-around (losing to teammate Nastia Liukin) and team events (Liukin also won silver in the balance beam).

It was the only Olympic Games Johnson would compete in. She tore her ACL skiing in 2010 and retired from the sport amid a comeback for the 2012 games. However, she lived out the moment she “dreamt of my whole life.”

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Shawn Johnson with gold medal

Shawn Johnson celebrates her gold medal on the balance beam during the gymnastics apparatus finals at the National Indoor Stadium during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.  (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

Johnson earned the rare opportunity to represent the United States; wear the red, white, and blue; and hear her country’s national anthem with Olympic gold draped around her neck.

“It was the greatest honor of my life at the time,” Johnson said in a recent interview with Fox News Digital, adding that having children has trumped that experience.

“Being able to wear the red, white and blue, seeing the flag be lowered, hearing the anthem, put your hand over your chest. It was this moment I had dreamt of my whole life. And being able to do that not just for myself, but for my coaches and my team and our country, it was a really special moment. It felt very special.”

Shawn Johnson after winning

Shawn Johnson, left, and Nastia Liukin of the U.S. stand on the podium after the women’s balance beam final of the artistic gymnastics event of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing Aug. 19, 2008. (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

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Johnson will be in Paris this summer for the Olympics with her family for what she described as a “full-circle moment” that’s admittedly “cliché and cheesy.”

But she says she will be a “giant cheerleader.”

“I feel like its such a small world that I know the girls through a couple degrees of separation. I’m an old has-been. I’m not in it anymore, but I will be there cheering for them and will be the one saying, ‘No matter what you do, you’ve done an incredible job.’ They’re superhuman, and I’m just cheering them on.”

Johnson’s attendance at the games comes at maybe the peak of women’s sports. Women’s gymnastics is always must-watch television every four years, but this time, it’s a bit different.

Shawn Johnson on balance beam

Shawn Johnson of the U.S. in action during her gold medal win in the women’s balance beam final at National Indoor Stadium in Beijing, China. (Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

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“Me, as a mother to a daughter, I’m so excited. I don’t know what it means in particular. I just love that women’s sports are getting the attention they deserve,” Johnson said. 

“I think every athlete, male or female, that works their entire life to get to the Olympic Games deserves a platform and the attention that they worked for. I think being able to go into these Olympic Games with that shared excitement across all platforms, both genders, I think is really, really cool.”

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