So, yesterday was basically one of the most exciting days I’ve ever had. As you know, Julie is headed to the Olympics in London in August, but I got the chance to attend the gymnastics Olympic trials this week in San Jose on behalf of P&G Beauty. For three hours, I had the opportunity to watch, up close, the country’s best gymnasts practice for competition. It was, quite simply, awe-inspiring. I’ll be posting photos and videos in the next week.
But equally as exciting was sitting down to talk with an incredible athlete who is not competing this year – Shawn Johnson, who won the gold medal on balance beam, and the silver all-around individual medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Earlier this month, despite prior intentions to compete for a slot on the 2012 Olympic team, Johnson announced her retirement due to recurring problems with her knee following an injury. Instead, her new role at the Olympic Games will be as a P&G correspondent, interviewing athletes and cheering them on from the stands. After the jump, read my interview with Shawn, who talks about what she learned from being surrounded by so many other women, how she feels about being a role model, and what question she’s dying to ask the Olympic athletes in London. Oh yeah, and we also obviously talked about gross beauty tips, Ryan Gosling, tall guys, and “Magic Mike.” Because duh.
So, this is a different experience for you, being here at trials, than it was in 2008 because you’re not competing. Is it bittersweet?
Umm … (pauses) … it’s a transition. P&G has definitely made it an easier transition, giving me a purpose and a role here with the announcing of the grant and everything. I mean, part of me would do anything to be down there competing, but part of me does enjoy being up here and not having to do all of that. I’m on the fence. I can’t decide!
Well, it sounds like being a correspondent will be bringing some new challenges for you — are you nervous, excited?
I’m excited! I’m a naturally really curious person and i’ve always wanted to know about other sports, and what other athletes feel and go through. I think I’ll be able to connect with them as a fellow athlete, and I’ll have some different questions that other interviewers would have. I think I’m going to enjoy taking a little break from being on that side of the camera.
When you’ve gone to the Olympics as a competitor in the past, have you been able to watch other events?
We’re not allowed to go to anything else, we’re kind of confined to our rooms. This will be the first time I’ll be able to go and watch other events. Since 2008, a lot of the other Olympians have become really close friends of mine, so being able to go to their events and actually cheer them on is gonna be the highlight for me!
Do you have any other big post-retirement plans?
I’ve really only planned through London and I’m working on what to do after. I’m working on college and preparing to retake my SATs and all that fun stuff. I’m not really sure, though. It’s the first time that I’ve had time to think about what I want to do. I’m just going to try everything. I want to fine a new niche.
Have you been able to relax at all, kick back, indulge in anything you haven’t been able to do when you were training all the time?
Oh no! I think I’ve been home three days since I announced. I’m not one that relaxes well, I don’t know how to relax. So my indulgence would be, like, hot yoga.
Yeah, or Hot Yoga Barre I’m obsessed with.
That’s a little advanced for me. I’m dead by the end of one Bikram class.
Yeah, it’s tough! I love running! I’ve been running a lot. I love doing stuff like that, things I’ve never really had the option to do.
You’ve spent the vast majority of your life being in the company of other women and girls — what’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from them?
That being a strong individual and an independent woman is not a bad thing. I’ve learned from being in the company of all the athletes and former female athletes that standing up for what you believe in and being a strong woman is beautiful in its own sense. I had some great role models growing up and that’s made me be able to be the strong woman that I’ve grown to be.
How do feel about being seen as a role model?
It’s an honor. It comes with pressure, but it’s something that I don’t take lightly. I’m in a gym, or I used to be in a gym, every day with girls who were 5 to 12 years old and they became like my little sisters. So anything I said and anything I did, I knew they would see and reflect on. Everything I do on a daily basis, if I don’t want them doing it, then I don’t do it myself. I’ve gotten kind of used to that lifestyle. And it’s not a bad one to lead, it makes you a stronger, better person.
Being mindful of how your actions influence others is something everyone can take into their own lives a little bit more.
One thing I’m curious about, especially watching the trials, is how you were able to balance your competitive feelings with your role as a teammate. I mean, these girls are competing against each other — against their friends — for a slot on the Olympic team. You compete together and you compete against each other — how do you handle that?
Especially right now at Olympic trials, it’s something that they’re all feeling at the same time, so it’s something they respect and understand. Luckily, these girls have grown up together, they’re really close friends, they know what each other are going through, so as soon as they leave the arena, everything gets left behind. It’s hard because they all are down there practicing, competing, knowing that not all of them will make it [to the Olympics]. It’s a very conflicted event for them and I think emotionally it’s hard but it’s part of the competition. At the end of the day, you have to accept that you’re all wearing red, white and blue and it’s ultimately for your country and not just for yourself.
It’s also an important lesson that could be applied to other career paths. You know, if you’re working in an office and are part of a group or team, you want the best for the group but you’re also looking to advance yourself. Do you have any recommendations on how to do that?
Yeah. I think there’s a fine balance. You can’t be too forward or pushy or too selfish, but yet you have to be selfish. I think something that’s great in watching the girls is they’re all competing individually and they’re all making each other better. When one girl advances, another girl wants to follow. So you’re constantly building each other up and you have to respect that. Especially in the work force, you can push yourself to a certain point but if someone else ultimately gets to the top, they deserved it and you have to accept that. It’s learning to play the game!
On another topic entirely, what’s been your most embarrassing moment during a competition?
At National Championships back in … it wasn’t elite, it was level 10, so right under elite … the entire arena was roped off and I was a spaz back then and I decided to try to, like, hurdle it. And I caught my foot on the rope and tore the entire thing down. That was not my high point!
Was there a crowd?
Nice move. So, do you have any interesting beauty tips or tricks that you’ve learned over the years, after working your hands and feet so hard?
Well, there’s some gross beauty tips…
I love gross, give it to me!
Well, gymnasts have nasty farmer hands, very calloused. This is going to sound weird, but there are all these callous shavers and pumice stones you can buy, but I never found that they would work for me. So I take a razor that you use for your legs and I shave off all my callouses on my hands at the end of the night. Those three different blades really get it done! And the ones that have the moisturizer on them really help too.
That is brilliant.
You have to be careful, of course, but I think it really works! Gymnasts also always get calloused, nasty feet, so I know a lot of girls buy thick, insulated socks or mittens and we would cover our entire hands and feet in Vaseline or Neosporin first and then sleep through the night with them on.
What about bruises? I have the most massive bruise on my leg that won’t go away and I bet you have a solution for it.
There’s a cream called Volterin. It’ll take it away. Over night.
Buying it ASAP. So, what are some of your pop culture guilty pleasures?
“So You Think You Can Dance” is my favorite — but I haven’t seen one episode this season yet. I’ve TIVOed them all though. I’m obsessed with People Style Watch — I love shopping, but I can’t really shop when I’m traveling so I do a lot of online shopping. What movies are out? I haven’t seen a movie lately.
“Magic Mike,” this Friday!
(gasps) Channing Tatum! Matthew McConaughey! So hot. Actually, the last movie I loved was “Crazy Stupid Love” with Ryan Gosling.
Girl. He’s my number one. I ran all the way to a Whole Foods because a friend texted me that he was there. (I proceed to tell her my entire Ryan Gosling story.)
Is he as gorgeous in person?
Yes, he’s as gorgeous and he’s tall too!
I’ve never dated a guy under six foot. I don’t know why.
Once you go tall, you never go back. It makes you feel so little.
I love that.
So, now that you’re going to be interviewing all these athletes as a correspondant, are there any questions you’re dying to ask them?
Well, in gymnastics, our team is hand selected. At the end of the day, we wait for a score, we wait to be picked. Whereas with track or swimming, you know as you’re headed towards that finish line if you’re gonna make it or not. As soon as you’ve crossed that line, you know if you’ve gotten a gold. I’d like to know what that feels like. For us, it can be completely biased. It’s up to a judge how we do. If I was a track and field athlete, I would have a heart attack sitting on the blocks, waiting for “On your marks, get set…” I’d probably die right there, with the adrenaline pumping — I’d be shaking! I cannot imagine how that feels. “On your marks … get set” … I’d be like, “I wanna go, I wanna go!”