Shawn Johnson Opens Up 8 Years Later

| by Michael Doherty
A photo of Shawn JohnsonA photo of Shawn Johnson

Eight years after winning four medals in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, American gymnast Shawn Johnson East has opened up about the mental distress that led to her early retirement.

Johnson, who was 16 at the time of the events, revealed her painful memories of the competition in a newly released video by Christian web series "I Am Second," which says that its purpose is to "give hope to the lonely and the hurting, according to the Des Moines Register.

Johnson revealed in the video the enormous pressure that she felt to take home the gold medals, and how devastated she was when she received her first silver medal. By the time she received her balance beam gold medal, she said that she felt like "she had failed the world."

"I felt like since the world saw me as nothing else, that if I failed at being a gymnast, I had failed at being a human being," said Johnson.

"I remember being given the silver medal on the podium. The person that did it gave me a hug and told me, 'I'm sorry,'" said Johnson, who said that the apology haunted her even after her subsequent gold medal win, according to WXIA.

In 2009, Johnson appeared on "Dancing With The Stars" and became the youngest winner to appear on the show. She said that despite her success, the comments about her body and personality hurt her.

"I remember reading all of these blogs and newspaper articles and seeing headlines of people criticizing my weight and my appearance and my personality, my character. It affected me immensely."

During training for the 2012 London Olympics, Johnson said she was spending 40 hours in the gym trying to lose weight, and the stress began to take its toll on her body. Her hair was falling out and she couldn't sleep -- her parents thought that she had depression.

Johnson said that one day, she had a moment of clarity. While standing at the edge of a balance beam, she said, she realized that her heart was telling her to retire from gymnastics.

"In that one moment, I feel like God was telling me, 'You've been so distraught over this decision. You've been putting yourself through all of this and your family through all of this. You've been afraid of disappointing a lot of people and you've not been yourself. It's OK to follow your heart and put it behind you.'"

With only a month left before trials for the London Olympics, Johnson retired from gymnastics at the age of 20.

Since her retirement, Johnson has gone on to become a trainer for Nike as well as a motivational speaker, and write a young-adult novel, "The Flipside," inspired by her experiences as a teenage gymnast. She has also married Andrew East of the Oakland Raiders.

Sources: Des Moines Register, WXIA / Photo credit: Jamie Lantzy/Flickr

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