After Shawn Johnson returned from the Summer Olympics in Beijing, she sat on couches fielding questions from Letterman, Leno, Oprah and Ellen and even led the Pledge of Allegiance before Barack Obama took the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Denver — a heady whirlwind of activity for a 16-year-old from West Des Moines, Iowa.
But the gymnast says her biggest thrill since taking the gold medal on the balance beam (and silver medals for her floor exercise and in the team and all-around competitions) is joining the 2008 Tour of Gymnastic Superstars, which stops at Quicken Loans Arena Nov. 6.
“It’s just a time when we’re able to do gymnastics,” she says before a training session in San Diego for the 37-city outing. “This is what we love. We don’t have to be so serious, so competitive about everything.”
Johnson says her parents hesitated before allowing her to take a semester off school to hit the road with U.S. Olympic teammates such as Nastia Liukin and Chellsie Memmel. “For any parent to let their 16-year-old go for three months, it’s hard,” she says, sounding more like a mother than a child. As a result, she relishes perks such as going to Sea World and hanging out on the beach near her hotel. Although she doesn’t think of herself as famous, she says traveling with security is “kind of cool.”
Johnson admits that the gymnasts’ routines have been “watered down” for the tour. “We don’t have our coaches here — we’re training by ourselves — and we don’t always have access to a gymnastic facility,” she explains. But she believes audiences will enjoy the routines more because they’re set to music. The show also includes live performances by teen singing sensations Jordan Pruitt and KSM.
“We’re just out there as a group having fun, showing them some of our big skills and putting on a show,” she says.