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Johnson sees lots of hard work in the futures of Olympic hopefuls

| Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, 11:42 p.m.
Shawn Johnson at the Women's VISA Championships, Agganis Areana in Boston Univeristy.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Olympic gold and silver medalist and 'Dancing with the Stars' Season 8 winner, Shawn Johnson.

Shawn Johnson, only 16 when she won an Olympic Gold medal in gymnastics, offered advice for those preparing to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics:

These athletes, she said, are “99 percent there” and need to get themselves excited and relish it.

“There's really nothing more physically you can do,” said Johnson, now 21. “There's nothing to do but train mentally.”

The Winter Olympics take place from Feb. 7 to 23 in Sochi, Russia. Six months later, a prequel to the 2016 Summer Olympics will come to Pittsburgh for the first time. The 2014 P&G Gymnastics Championships will be held from Aug. 21 to 24 at Consol Energy Center.

Johnson came to Pittsburgh on Dec. 17 to promote the gymnastics competition.

“These girls and boys we see there are the ones you see in the Olympics,” she said.

Seeing the intense competition in person, rather than on television, “makes it real,” said Johnson, who retired from competitive gymnastics in 2012 after a knee injury. The time came for a new chapter in her life.

She moved to Nashville recently and is preparing to attend Vanderbilt University next fall, probably to study sports psychology and dietetics. Johnson doesn't do any gymnastics now, but she teaches and coaches other gymnasts. Gymnastics is a sport where you have to be “all in,” Johnson says.

“Unless you're training all day, every day ... it's not a sport you can mess with,” she said.

Her participation on “Dancing With the Stars” gave Johnson another outlet for her athleticism. She won the eighth season of the ABC show, and last year, she came in second in the show's “All-Stars” edition. The dancing offered an exciting, different experience, she said.

“What's hard to explain is that the physical demand of gymnastics is the polar opposite of what dancing is,” Johnson said.

Her youthful Olympic accomplishment set a standard for the rest of her life, for hard work and achievement, she said. The medal motivates her to strive just as hard in other things throughout life.

“I feel like I set the bar pretty high for myself,” said Johnson, who feels that in many ways, she bypassed her teen years.

“It takes such discipline and duty to your country,” she said of being an Olympian. “It was pretty intense, and you live in a fishbowl.”

Johnson recently bought a property in her native Des Moines, Iowa, that she plans to turn into a multisports facility in the future. The facility for youth would offer lifestyle and extreme sports, such as snowboarding, BMX and hip-hop dance.

Johnson tells kids who want to achieve highly to work very hard, because it does produce results. And they should absolutely love what they want to do.

“The most important thing is to have fun,” Johnson said. “My success comes from truly having a passion for what I did.”

The 2014 P&G Gymnastics Championships come to Consol Energy Center from Aug. 21 to 24. Tickets for the four-day package are on sale for $141 to $476. Tickets for individual dates will go on sale at a later date. Details: www.consolenergycenter.com

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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