The Daily Gamecock

Olympian Shawn Johnson shares her story with USC students

World-renowned gymnast Shawn Johnson humanized the Olympic experience when she spoke to students Wednesday. Johnson won one gold and three silver medals at the 2008 Olympics in women’s gymnastics and was also featured on "Dancing with the Stars" and "Celebrity Apprentice."

“We thought that the Olympics were going to be going on in the summer and Shawn is I would argue best known for killing it at the Olympics all those years ago and so we were like, 'Why not in the Olympic season bring an Olympian?'" said Stephen Simmons, president of Carolina Productions.

The Russell House Ballroom was practically filled to capacity with USC students and faculty. Fittingly, many sports and entertainment management students showed up for the event.

“Shawn Johnson is pretty crazy," said Brian Sullivan, third-year sports and entertainment management student. "She’s one of the most famous Olympians of all time."

Johnson’s talk was focused on her career and made the Olympic experience relatable. In one anecdote, Johnson talked about how the night before she competed in the all-around finals in Beijing, she read Twilight and wrote in her journal. She talked about her overall experience being an Olympian, conveying that despite her accomplishments, she is still a regular young adult.

"It was really nice to just sit and watch her talk and get her side of the story," third-year sports and entertainment management student Ti’ Nesha Sampson said.

One of the biggest moments of the speech was Johnson’s story about how she won the silver medal for the all-around competition. Nastia Liukin, Johnson's teammate, beat Johnson out for the gold medal. If all-around scores had been calculated during the team competition two days earlier, Johnson would have received the coveted gold medal, as she had continuously done in world championship competitions in years prior.  Johnson told the story of how a reporter made her feel as though she had “lost” by getting second place. She reminded students that it is less about the events that happen to a person and more about their reactions to them — advice her coach always gave her.

“I thought it was really inspirational," Samira Nematollahi, first-year political science student, said. "She told us about her journey on the Olympic competition. She said how she won silver and how people made it seem like she lost, but because she persevered and did better than she thought she would, she actually won.” 

Johnson's appearance drew a diverse crowd, from diehard gymnastics fans to casual Olympics followers.

“I thought it was interesting," Hunter Lindell, a first-year sports and entertainment management student, said. "I knew who Shawn Johnson was just because she's an Olympian, but I didn’t really watch gymnastics closely until this year. Seeing how good the team was this summer, I just found how interesting [gymnastics] was even though I didn’t really know a lot about it.” 

Johnson and her personal stories allowed students to relate to her and be inspired by what she has accomplished and continues to accomplish, working through everyday struggles and handling life-altering events.