Star Gymnast Transforms Into Pop Celebrity
VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Shawn Johnson has transformed from world-class athlete to pop celebrity so thoroughly that it's hard to believe only 18 months have passed since she collected four gymnastics medals at the Beijing Olympics.
The 18-year-old from West Des Moines, Iowa, parlayed Olympic gold into an appearance on "Dancing With the Stars" (she won the eighth season), a spot as a judge for the recent Miss America pageant and a portrait with a milk mustache for the iconic "Got Milk?" ad campaign that debuted Thursday.
But the competitive juices still stir for Johnson, who earned one gold and three silvers at the 2008 Summer Games. She is making the rounds at the Vancouver Winter Games this week, with appearances on behalf of McDonald's and the milk industry on Thursday.
"It's amazing to actually be at an Olympics where I'm not a competitor," she said after winning a smoothie-making contest against two other former Olympians at McDonald's. "It's weird. It gives me mixed feelings. The nerves and everything. I'm like, 'I'm ready to compete.'"
Johnson will attend tonight's opening ceremony and also plans to watch friends compete: former reality-TV stars Angela Ruggiero (hockey), Apolo Anton Ohno (short-track speedskating) and Louie Vito (snowboarding). She said if she were to be a winter Olympian, it would probably be in the latter event.
"I love the flipping aspect of it," she said of snowboarding, which she's never tried. "And it's fun. People would normally think figure skating. But it's too close to gymnastics. I want to keep gymnastics separate."
So do many of the fans who now approach Johnson on the street.
"I feel people, wherever I go, they're like, 'Dancing With the Stars.' I'm like, 'No. The Olympics. You know?'" Johnson said with mock exasperation. "But it was more in the public eye. It was every week, every day. And it's more current. But hopefully they still remember the Olympics."
Johnson's life has been a whirlwind since Beijing, but she said she's still stationed in Iowa on the rare occasions things slow down.
"I haven't slept in 18 months," she said. "But I love it. I love everything I've done. I love being able to travel and do a lot of promotions and kind of get my name out there and my story."