Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tribute to Shawn Johnson

I started following gymnastics avidly during 2004 and the build up to the Olympics. And I kept hearing the name Carly Patterson over and over again. While the NBC commentators would salivate over her calm and light beam work, Patterson's lack of spark and somewhat arrogant personality turned me off. By the time the Olympics rolled around, Patterson was being touted as America's best hope for Olympic AA gold, but with the two Courtneys in tow she wasn't their only hope. But in Athens, Patterson clearly was in the best shape to win it all. After a shaky team finals performance, I wanted the Russian bitchface Svetlana Khorkina to win the Olympic AA gold. Even though Khorkina posed in Playboy, even though she often showed unsportsmanlike conduct, I wanted the dedicated Russian beauty to win. But on that night, athlete triumphed over artist, the time would be right for Patterson. Or would it? Patterson fell as quickly in the media spotlight as she had arrived, and after being on the Wheaties box, attention would not be forthcoming. We will still be looking for the next Mary Lou, not the next Carly, even though Patterson's accomplishment of winning in a non-boycotted competition and on foreign soil do outshine Retton's accomplishments on paper.

With Carly not living up to her role as the next great American gymnastics superstar, I was eagerly awaiting who would be the darling of the 2008 Games. I found Nastia Liukin to be a gorgeous gymnast with enthralling polish and flexibility, but her personality made it seen as though she was never enjoying herself out on the floor. I was shocked to find out that Vanessa Ferrari won the World Championship AA crown with a fall, and though I have since warmed up to Ferrari I almost stopped watching gymnastics entirely.

The 2007 American Cup had arrived, and immediately the commentators were announcing a young 15 year-old girl by the name Shawn Johnson as the next great thing of gymnastics. I had never even heard of her, but by the second she mounted bars I was transfixed. Lovely form, good releases, and out of nowhere popped out a laidout double-double dismount. When NBC showed a fluff piece of her, she was instantly my favorite. A humble, down-to-earth, but intelligent and mature personality was shown by this incredible gymnast that shock horror, goes to a real school and trains less than 30 hours a week. Despite a fall on beam Shawn's incredible skill, great technique, and an infectious smile made me think that she was the next great hope for gymnastics. Shawn's humble and joyous attitude made me fall in love with gymnastics all over again; even a new code of points couldn't change that.

As Shawn won everything in 2007, I was happy but worried. The media's intense interest in Shawn after her World AA win was arguably more than that of Kim Zmeskal, and Shawn would have to carry that throughout build-up to the Olympics. And also the fact that Lilia Podkopayeva (UKR) was the only gymnast in the last eight Olympics to defend her World AA crown at the Olympics. But if anyone can do it, Shawn can. Her genuine love of gymnastics and of life will hopefully continue to outshine the pressure of being the world's best gymnast. And more than her great skill and all of what she has done to make the U.S. team more successful, Shawn's love for gymnastics and gracious acceptance of victory or defeat are my favorite things about her. OK, yes she says "It's an honor" more times than China has people, I understand. But regardless of whether she wins Olympic AA gold, her natural joy for the sport of gymnastics and of life and her always rooting for the U.S. team and for others to do well makes me want Shawn to be successful, to make herself proud of what she has done.

That is all.

1 comment:

Audrey said...

I love your writing.