Johnson’s comeback starts rocky while Memmel, Sacramone soar

Maggie Hendricks
Fourth-Place Medal

CHICAGO -- Shawn Johnson had not competed since winning a gold medal on balance beam in Beijing, and her rust showed at the CoverGirl Classic on Saturday night. Competing in two events, Johnson was shaky, but happy to work through her nerves.

Johnson worked a strong uneven parallel bars routine until the dismount, a full twisting double layout. Johnson landed awkwardly with a stiff leg, forcing her to bend over and touch the floor. On the balance beam on the next rotation, Johnson fell off the beam during her opening aerial sequence.

"It's my first time back out in over three years, and I expected this. It's just to get the shakes out. I was coming here to test the waters, and get the nerves out," Johnson said.

She injured her knee skiing last year, which pushed her into making the decision to make another run at the Olympics. For the past year, Johnson has worked on rehabbing her knee and getting back into shape to compete in all four events again, like she did when she won silver in the all-around in Beijing. Before the event, she said that the competitive fires were being stoked. {YSP:MORE}

"I felt like Shawn Johnson the competitor, the girl from Beijing. It was really exciting. "

Johnson admits that the awkward dismount from bars did bother her knee.

"The landing aggravated the knee, I had to deal with it. I made mistakes. I'm human, but they won't be there at nationals."

Several gymnasts use the CoverGirl as a tune-up event before heading to the Visa National Championships in mid-August, and Johnson wasn't the only one making a comeback. Chellsie Memmel, the 2005 all-around world champion and 2008 Olympian, competed for the first time since Beijing, as well.

Memmel had a much stronger meet than Johnson. Behind consistent performances on every apparatus, Memmel took second in the all-around behind newcomer Alexandra Raisman. She was injured just days before competition in Beijing and only competed on the uneven bars. Her performance on Saturday night showed a rejuvenated Memmel, though she claims she was a ball of nerves.

"I was so nervous. I don't know if I ever been that nervous, even for an Olympics or a worlds, because you're so prepared, and you feel the energy of the crowd. This time, I haven't competed in three years, and I was feeling it in my stomach," Memmel said.

Alicia Sacramone, also a silver medalist in Beijing with Memmel and Johnson, started her comeback last season, and showed more polish on Saturday night. With boyfriend, Denver Broncos quarterback Brady Quinn, looking on, Sacramone won the vault and balance beam.

She is further down the road then Johnson and Memmel, and has Raisman as a teammate pushing her. Sacramone is confident that her Olympic teammates will be comfortable competing again.

"Competing is the easiest part. Training, and getting back in shape, that's what was really difficult for my comeback, and I'm sure it was the same for them. Competing for those two comes natural. Getting the kinks out now is easy," Sacramone said.

Though Johnson's performance wasn't her best, this event was just one stepping stone.

"This isn't my goal. It's next year. This is just the beginning, and we're working towards next year."

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