Blame Russian pixie Olga Korbut for the explosion of women’s gymnastics in this country, and blame her and Nadia Comaneci for turning the sport from the artistic expressions of women in their mid twenties, to a sport dominated by teenage girls with death defying tumbling skills. Whatever the real reason may be, America has had a love affair with its pint size gymnasts for over three decades now.
So come the Bejing Olympics this year, who will assume the mantle of America’s next gymnastics darling? Who will be the next Mary Lou Retton or Carly Patterson? Right now the leading contender for the coveted title of best female gymnast in the world is 4 foot 8 inch Shawn Robinson of Des Moines Iowa.
After all, Johnson is the reigning World Champion, winning the all-around competition at the 2007 World Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart Germany. Johnson, who beat out Romania’s Stelina Nistor for the top honors, also led Team USA to a Team Gold medal, adding an individual gold in the floor exercise along the way. In winning the all-around title, Johnson joined US gynmast, Kim Zmeskal, Shannon Miller and Chellise Memmel as the only America’s to win the world title.
Yet, while Zmeskal, Miller and Memmel are known throughout most gymnastics circle, their popularity never seemed to reach the national level achieved by Mary Lou Retton and Carly Patterson. That’s because Patterson, a silver medalist at the World Championship in 2003, saved her best performance for the Olympic stage, taking gold at the 2004 Games in Athens. Retton, who became America’s sweetheart after her gold medal performance at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, missed the World Championships the year before. Both of these gymnasts then catapulted to the top of the list of America’s best known gymnast based almost entirely on their Olympic performance.
Shawn, whose powerfully compact body and size match Retton and Patterson, also matches these two former gymnasts in style. In doing so, she perhaps lacks some of the more graceful artistic lines of former US gymnasts like Julianne McNamera. As a sixteen year old, she is also just beginning to show the artistic mastery in her dance movement that former US gymnast Kathy Johnson became known for. Kathy, who competed for the US in International competition long past the age of most of today’s gymnasts, was known for her ballet-like moves on the floor exercise. The fact that Shawn Johnson has already taken a gold medal at the World’s in the same discipline shows that she is on the right track towards developing her skills in this vital area.
Yet, before we get ahead of ourselves and have visions of Shawn Johnson on the cover of the next box of Wheaties, it should be noted that Johnson would first need to make it onto the US Team in June of this year. After that, it should be off to China, for her shot at Olympic immortality.
Yet this accomplished high school student insists that she is not in gymnastics for the sake of achievement, instead she claims to be in it for the love of the sport. In saying so, she flashed the personality needed to become America’s next gymnastics sweetheart.
“Shawn Johnson: America’s next great gymnast,” www.highschool.rivals.com
“Shawn Johnson,” en.wikipedia.org
“Carly Patterson,” en.wikipedia.org