One of the most aggravating aspects of the Olympics to me is when reporters treat silver medalists like losers – as if being the second best athlete in your field in THE ENTIRE WORLD is somehow something to hang your head about. In her engaging and enjoyable new memoir “Winning Balance” (co-written with Nancy Anderson French), former Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson reveals she had a hard time with that attitude herself. In fact, she was shocked by it.
During the individual all-around competition at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, both Shawn and her friend/teammate, Nastia Liukin, were expected to be in a tight competition for the gold medal. That’s exactly what happened.
Their scores were close throughout most of the competition in which they had to compete in four categories: vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercises. After the balance beam, however, Shawn saw from the scoreboard that it was mathematically impossible for her to beat Nastia. A little dispirited because there had been such an emphasis on her winning gold, Shawn briefly questioned whether she should just give up. She quickly realized that failure – and that’s exactly what giving up would be: failure – was not an option.
Recalling the moment, Shawn writes, “I was still determined to give this performance my entire heart and soul, but my motivation had changed. In some strange way, once I knew the gold was out of reach, I was free to go out there and just be me, the natural competitor who nonetheless had stuck with gymnastics since age three for the pure joy of the sport. I would show the world what I could do while having fun doing it.”