Shawn Johnson on retirement, tears, and what’s next

Maggie Hendricks
Fourth-Place Medal

Shawn Johnson has been to the top of the Olympics world. With gold on the balance beam and three silver medals in Beijing, Johnson accomplished what most athletes dream of, but that didn't make it easy for her to walk away.

Last week, Johnson retired because of a knee injury, and she said to Fourth-Place Medal that it was a tough decision.

"I've been on an emotional roller coaster the last few weeks. I've been to doctors, talked to Marta [Karolyi], talked to [her coach Liang] Chow, talked to everybody, talked about the options, and what was best for me, best for the team. I know it's the best decision for me, and to announce it before championships, get it all out of the woods so the focus can be on them. This is the biggest week of their lives and they deserve it."

[ Photos: Shawn Johnson through the years]

She announced her retirement before the Visa Championships, erasing any will-she-or-won't-she questions from hanging over the event that helps decide who will represent the U.S. in London.

Johnson came to the decision after the pain and inflammation in her knee kept her from training on multiple days. What made it easier was the response from her large cadre of supporters.

"To be honest, I bawled my eyes out. It was a relief. I had this small fear that people would be mad or disappointed or not support me or understand. It made the announcement terrifying. Some of those first messages on Twitter and calls from my sponsors, I'll be honest. I was bawling like a baby. I just thought, thank you! You have no idea what this means to me."

She is still adjusting to her life without competitive gymnastics, and has many doors open to her. Her face lit up at the idea of doing "Dancing with the Stars" in all-star season, the reality show she won after the Olympics. ABC executives, take note.

"The doctor gave me a list of things I can do, and the one thing I can't is gymnastics, so possibly dancing!"

Beyond attending the Olympics and supporting teammate Gabrielle Douglas, Johnson is unsure what is next. The many options include college and working.

"This change in path is opening a lot of doors. I thought it would close a lot of doors, but it's opening them. A lot of people have been calling and asking for work on things I can't even imagine," Johnson said. "I can only let it be exciting. If I dwell on the fact I'm done or that I got hurt, that can get you kinda down. I have to look at the bright side of it. It's a fresh start."

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