Shawn Johnson

Catching up with Shawn Johnson

Leave a comment

Shawn Johnson has kept plenty busy since her four-medal performance at the 2008 Olympics.

The gymnast won “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009, made a run at the 2012 Olympics after tearing an ACL skiing and then retired two months before the London Games due to the knee injury.

Johnson went back on “Dancing with the Stars” for an all-star edition later in 2012 and recently started taking college classes.

OlympicTalk recently caught up with Johnson to look back on her career, discuss her future and analyze the current gymnastics scene:

OlympicTalk: You’re in college now, what are you studying?

Johnson: I’m a freshman at Vanderbilt, studying sports psychology and dietetics. I want to turn it around in the sport. I want to give back to gymnastics.

OlympicTalk: What’s the classroom setting like?

Johnson: I haven’t really been in a classroom setting yet. I’m going to be a full-time student next fall. But I’ve done a lot of online.

OlympicTalk: Why Vanderbilt?

Johnson: I already live in Nashville, so it was already kind of a perfect fit. I lived in LA for a while. It’s a little bit too big of a city for me, seeing as I’m from Des Moines, Iowa. And then I found Nashville, was interested in Vanderbilt and moved there. My best friend lives there. It kind of all fell together.

OlympicTalk: What are your first memories of the 2008 Olympics?

Johnson: I would say the team competition was the epitome of the Olympics for me, being able to work together, compete together and earn a (silver) medal. It’s everything that I had dreamed of and worked for.

OlympicTalk: Would you change anything about your comeback in 2010 in hindsight?

Johnson: Not at all. It wasn’t exactly like I dreamed or planned because I wanted to be on that (Olympic) team, but I don’t think I would have come back if it weren’t for my knee injury. That was kind of the motivation behind it, and that ultimately is what ended my career. It was a great learning experience. I wouldn’t change it.

source: Getty Images
Shawn Johnson won one gold (balance beam) and three silvers at the Beijing Olympics. (Getty Images)

OlympicTalk: Which current gymnast do you like to watch?

Johnson: She’s not a senior yet, but her name is Norah Flatley (14 years old, on the Junior National Team). She’s a Chow’s gymnast (training under Liang Chow, Johnson’s longtime coach in Iowa). She worked under me. She’s almost a mini-me. She’ll be in the 2016 Olympics if I’m putting my money on it.

OlympicTalk: No U.S. woman has made back-to-back Olympic teams since 2000. What do you attribute that to?

Johnson: Our difficulty level. I think our girls are so far ahead of other gymnasts and other countries. We choose such difficulty that we almost burn our girls out too early. It works for us. We bring the medals back and everything, but I think it’s a lifestyle. We have the freedom to kind of move into other things, where other countries make a living off of it.

OlympicTalk: Can you compare/contrast your 2008 Olympic Team to the 2012 Fierce Five?

Johnson: No comparison to 2012, but I think the 2008 team was really great because we had our team leader, Alicia Sacramone. She was like the mom. She kept us all grounded and sane and not distracted. We had strengths from every other girl. Sam Peszek was awesome. She was good on every event. Bridget Sloan, Chellsie Memmel, Nastia Liukin, obviously, she won everything. We had a really good team bond, and we were a family. So, it worked well.

OlympicTalk: Do you still talk to Liukin?

Johnson: We don’t talk very much. She is a busy, busy girl. As am I. All of our lives have gone different directions, but we keep in touch every once in a while. Alicia just got married, so we were all celebrating that. I guess we’re growing up a little bit.

OlympicTalk: You’ve said you want to run a marathon?

Johnson: I’m still recovering from injuries from my sport, so I’ve been out of commission for the last year, not able to work out or do anything. My goals are definitely physical, trying to get back in shape and back into everything. So a marathon would be amazing. I have a crazy idea for an Ironman one day.

OlympicTalk: Why an Ironman?

Johnson: Just because it’s so extreme. The Olympics are extreme, so why not an Ironman? I hate running in general, I feel like I would drown, and I don’t really own a bike. So it doesn’t make sense, but I’ll accomplish it someday. I’m a competitor.

OlympicTalk: So you’re still dealing with injuries?

Johnson: Some nagging stuff. I also love to work out, so I never stop. My doctor finally made me stop for a year. I’m finally getting back to it.

The Olympic All-Star baseball team

Maia, Alex Shibutani repeat as U.S. champions, just miss record

Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY — Maia and Alex Shibutani proved again they are the best in the U.S. The task will be much tougher in two months at the world championships.

The siblings totaled 200.05 points to repeat as national champions on Saturday.

They missed the U.S. Championships overall record score, set by Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, by .14 of a point, after setting the short dance record Friday.

“A year out from the Olympics, this is exactly where we want to be,” Maia Shibutani told Andrea Joyce on NBC. “I know we’ve improved so much.”

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the 2015 U.S. champions, were second, 1.01 points behind the Shibutanis. Chock and Bates actually outscored the Shibutanis in the free dance.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were third after Hubbell shockingly fell during their free dance.

Full results are here.

The Shibutanis are riding a tidal wave of momentum. They earned their first U.S. title in 2016, then took silver at the world championships last March and bronze at the Grand Prix Final last month.

“The past year and a half, we’ve built so much momentum,” Alex Shibutani said. “We’re really coming into our own.”

The world’s two best couples are two-time reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Virtue and Moir took Olympic gold in 2010 and silver in 2014, then took two seasons off and returned this year to post the highest scores under the current system implemented in 2010.

The U.S., though, is unquestionably the deepest ice dance nation. The Shibutanis, Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue made up half of the top six at the 2016 World Championships. All three couples qualified for each of the last two Grand Prix Finals, which take only six couples.

Meanwhile, Davis and White have watched the ascension while taking a three-year break from competition. They are running out of time to decide if they will attempt to defend their Olympic title in PyeongChang. A nation can send no more than three couples to the Olympics.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Ice Dance
GOLD: Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani — 200.05

SILVER: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 199.04
BRONZE: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 191.42
4. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit — 170.29
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 160.06

Haven Denney, Brandon Frazier win U.S. pairs title after year off

Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY — Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier returned from a year off to win their first U.S. pairs title on Saturday, despite an error-prone free skate and against a field lacking any previous U.S. champion teams.

Denney and Frazier jumped from second after the short program to total 188.32 points and win by 2.04 over Sochi Olympian Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran. Denney and Frazier’s total score was 23.33 points fewer than last year’s winning score.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, who led by 3.96 after the short program, had a strong free skate going until a fall on their throw triple Lutz and finished third Saturday.

Full results are here.

Denney and Frazier were the top U.S. pair in the fall international season by 16 points, taking a silver medal at Skate America.

But Denney struggled on landings in the short program, her right leg wrapped after blowing out her right knee in spring 2015 that caused them to miss the entire 2015-16 season. They also had multiple jumping errors in their free skate, but, unlike the rest of the top five, stayed on their feet Saturday.

“We’re trying harder elements, harder jumps, bigger throws, bigger twists,” Frazier said. “What you see is a couple of ups and downs. This is all building for the next season.”

The U.S. will send two pairs to the world championships in Helsinki in two months, but not definitively the top two finishers from Saturday. The world championships pairs teams will be named Sunday.

Denney and Frazier finished 12th at the 2015 Worlds, after placing second at that year’s U.S. Championships. Castelli and Tran, in their second year as a pair, have no worlds experience together and are ineligible for the 2018 Olympics. Tran, born in Canada, is not a U.S. citizen.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. pair to earn an Olympic or world medal was Kyoka Ina and John Zimmerman at the 2002 Worlds. Eight different pairs have won the last nine U.S. titles.

In 2016, the U.S. pairs finished ninth and 13th at worlds, but both of those teams are out due to injuries.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, the top U.S. pair in international competition in recent seasons, has been out of competition all season due to her September stomach surgery. They have returned to full training.

The Knierims filed a petition to be named to the world championships team, which is selected on a discretionary basis on results from the U.S. Championships and other recent competitions.

“Whatever they decide,” Tran said of a U.S. Figure Skating selection committee, “we’re all for that.”

The 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea withdrew before the free skate Saturday after Kayne suffered a concussion in a short-program fall. They placed fifth in the short program.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Pairs
GOLD: Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier — 188.32
SILVER: Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran — 186.28
BRONZE: Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 184.41

4. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 173.50
5. Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillan — 168.90