Shawn Johnson

Catching up with Shawn Johnson

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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

Ragan Smith, after watching in Rio, leads P&G Championships

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Ragan Smith could do nothing more than watch in Rio as the Final Five dominated. The roles reversed at the P&G Championships on Friday night.

Smith, a Rio Olympic alternate, easily topped the all-around standings on the first of two nights of competition that will determine national champions.

Oh, and Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez were among those in the Honda Center crowd in Anaheim.

It’s the beginning of a new era for U.S. women’s gymnastics. None of the Rio Olympians are competing this weekend, but all five could come back for a Tokyo 2020 run.

For now, the spotlight is on Smith.

“It’s kind of nice, like, having a new generation coming up,” Smith, who is coached by 1992 Olympic bronze medalist Kim Zmeskal Burdette, said on NBCSN. “I think it’s a little less pressure, but I still kind of feel like it’s the same because I had no idea what was going to happen last year.”

The 17-year-old Texan leads by 1.3 points over Riley McCusker going into the final day Sunday (7 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app). Full scores are here. A four-woman team for October’s world championships will be named after a camp later this summer.

Smith overcame minor flaws on her first routine — uneven bars — and more significant ones on her next — balance beam. A solid floor exercise and vault gave her a first-day lead six tenths shy of Biles’ average margin from 2013 through 2016.

The second- and third-highest scores Friday actually came from the earlier junior division. With no team event at this year’s worlds, senior depth is less necessary.

Smith, after just missing the Rio Olympic team in her first year as a senior gymnast, won the AT&T American Cup on March 4 despite a beam fall. That made her the favorite this week.

The rest of the field — with no Olympians for the first time since 2008 — could not keep pace Friday. Smith’s top challengers coming in were McCusker and Morgan Hurd.

McCusker, who shares a coach with Hernandez, reeled back some difficulty. She was on crutches with a cast on her wrist in early July.

Hurd, a first-year senior who competes in glasses, took two out-of-bounds steps and sat down on back-to-back floor exercise passes.

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P&G CHAMPS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
TV Schedule | Final Five Updates

Simone Biles says she’s back in the gym (video)

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Simone Biles is back in the gym.

In between giggles, Biles said she returned to the gym two weeks ago in an NBCSN interview at the P&G Championships in Anaheim on Friday night.

“I actually started, like, two Fridays ago,” Biles said. “I’m weak. But I’m coming back. I’m just doing conditioning and basics right now.”

Biles last competed at the Rio Olympics, winning five medals, including four golds, for the greatest single-Games medal haul by a female gymnast in nearly three decades. That came after Biles swept every U.S. and world all-around title in that four-year Olympic cycle.

The 20-year-old said late last year and early this year that she planned to return to training in late 2017 or early 2018 with an eye on Tokyo 2020.

“It’s OK to sit out one [year],” Biles said. “I can’t imagine being out on the floor now.”

Biles has not set a return to competition. Her longtime coach, Aimee Boorman, moved from Texas to Florida after Rio.

If Biles makes the Tokyo 2020 team, she can attempt to become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion since the late Czech Věra Čáslavská in 1964 and 1968.

Gabby Douglas attempted this feat in Rio but did not qualify for the all-around final.

Douglas said earlier this month that she has not decided whether she will return to competition.

Aly Raisman said in September that she plans to return to training after taking 2017 off. Laurie Hernandez said she hopes to go for 2020 but has not set a return to training.

Madison Kocian is the lone member of the Olympic team who has competed since Rio, but it wasn’t on the elite stage. The Texan did a full freshman season for UCLA with a torn labrum and partially torn rotator cuff in her shoulder.

Kocian said in June that she has not decided if she will return to elite gymnastics.

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P&G CHAMPS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
TV Schedule | Final Five Updates