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Olympic medalist Shawn Johnson announces retirement from gymnastics

By Elliott Almond, San Jose Mercury News –

Shawn Johnson, whose bubbly personality gave American gymnastics a face four years ago, has decided not to pursue another shot at Olympic glory.

The four-time Olympic medalist announced her retirement Sunday saying she could no longer risk further injuring a left knee that led to the comeback in the first place.

Johnson, who is considering attending Stanford in 2013, announced the decision a week before the Visa national championships in St. Louis. The competition will determine which gymnasts advance to the U.S. Olympic trials June 28-July 1 at HP Pavilion in San Jose.

Johnson, 20, made her decision Friday, the day 2008 Olympic teammate Chellsie Memmel announced she was moving on. USA Gymnastics had rejected Memmel’s petition to compete at the national championships because of a poor performance last weekend in a qualifying meet in Chicago.

Memmel, like Johnson, was trying to overcome injuries. But while her departure caused friction between Memmel’s family and gymnastics officials, Johnson’s was a cause for celebration Sunday.

“Not only has Shawn achieved the goals she has achieved, she has inspired so many more millions of people,” USA President Steve Penny said in a teleconference with reporters. “She really transcended the sport of gymnastics. She represented that girl next door and the true spirit of America.”

That spirit could be seen as Johnson returned to gymnastics after a ski accident in Colorado in two years ago where she tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus.

“The Dancing With the Stars” winner said she rediscovered passion for gymnastics while rehabilitating. But the left knee never fully recovered as the Iowan pushed her body to reach the top level of the sport again. Johnson was a member of the U.S. team that won a team gold medal at the Pan-American Games last fall.

She retired to guard against long-term damage to the knee, which can return to normal with rest, Johnson said.

“It’s been a constant fight since I starting come back,” she added. “It honestly came down to there isn’t enough time left. It was a realistic decision we have to face.”

Johnson isn’t sure what’s next. She doesn’t know what tomorrow’s plans might bring much less 20 years from now.

“This is the first time in my life I wake up and gymnastics is not my thing anymore,” the Olympian added. “I’m trying to figure out what I want to do. I’m scared to death what the future holds. It’s a blind road I never thought about but I am ready to start new journey.”

It could take off in the Bay Area. Johnson’s college choices are Stanford and Vanderbilt. She might study business but wants to explore a lot of courses before settling on a major.

But all of that can wait as Johnson plans to attend the national meet and the trials where the five-man and five-woman teams will be named. She wants to support the next generation of American stars, including Gabby Douglas, a favorite who trains in her gym in West Des Moines.

In 2008 in Beijing, Johnson won a gold medal on balance beam and silver medals in the all-around, floor exercise and team competition. She also was the 2007 all-around world champion—and is the only American gymnast other than Shannon Miller to win three gold medals at one world championships.

Johnson also won her first senior national all-around title in 2007 at the Visa championships in San Jose.

But she knew qualifying for the London Games would have been difficult under the best of circumstances because the United States has perhaps the world’s deepest talent.

Two dozen women are competing next weekend to reach the trials in San Jose. Three of Johnson’s Olympic teammates are among those in contention. At most only about 15 will advance.

“It is going to be a very cutthroat competition,” Johnson said. Had she been healthy enough to compete “it would have taken everything I had and a lot of luck” to make it.

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