Shawn Johnson today announced her retirement from gymnastics, saying:
““I still have the heart, drive, and desire to compete and help the USA at the London Olympics. Unfortunately, it has become obvious that my left knee is not able to sustain the demands of gymnastics any longer. All I can do now is gracefully retire and thank everyone who has believed in me and my journey.”
This is a real shame.
In gymnastics, there are basically two kinds of athletes. One does (generally) less difficulty with more grace, and one does (generally) more difficulty with less grace. Again, this a giant generalization, and most athletes tend to be some of both–but it seems as though the general catergorizing holds.
This was typified in the 2008 Bejiing Olympics with Nastia Luikin and Shawn Johnson. Nasti, a very Soviet style gymnast, competed mostly slightly easier routines–most notably on vault–whileShawn competed higher skills with a little less grace.
Gymnastics fans across the nation divided themselves into Team Shawn and Team Nastia, with many diehard fans on Team Nastia. I was on Team Shawn, and I will tell you why:
Nastia’s gymnastics is lovely and beautiful, and I like her a lot (a LOT) for real. I have nothing against Nastia and in many ways am glad she won the All Around. She is a fantastic gymnast. However, I find Shawn’s style to be a bit more exciting, more alive. And she always came across as a nicer person, which I like-although, of course, I’ve never met either and cannot really speak to that.
Shawn got a lot of shit for being a less graceful gymnast. I’ve heard her–along with Rebecca Bross, Aly Raisman and Jordyn Weiber–described as Satan, ugly as sin, and other lovely things. But I admire Shawn. She was rock solid and her gymnastics was big and bold.
And she seemed, too, like a new way to do gymnastics. She trained fewer hours and was injured much less than any other elite gymnast. She trained smart and she trained carefully and her coach seemed like one of the few non-abusive, non-bullying coaches out there. I hope that Gabby Douglas can continue that tradition.
Whatever you think of Shawn, she was one of the greats. She was rock solid, she hit under pressure, she was a great ambassador for the sport, and her gymnastics was huge. She went big, and she never went home.
We’ll miss you, Shawn.