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Q&A With Olympic Gymnast Shawn Johnson

One of the highlights for the casual fan of any Olympiad is the gymnastics competition, and London 2012 should be no different. One of the American leaders in gymnastics will again be Shawn Johnson, who will look to grow the medal count she started in Beijing with a gold and silver.

This week Procter & Gamble gave Johnson a chance to help give back to one of her biggest supporters, her mom Teri, through their “Thank You Mom” program. All 800 mothers of Olympic and Paralympic athletes will get $1,000 Visa reward cards to help offset the cost of traveling to London for the upcoming Summer Olympics. The cards are a gift from Proctor & Gamble and part of the company’s campaign.

We caught up with Johnson to talk London 2012 and the unique way she has stayed grounded on her way to Olympic heights:

Gymnastics is known for its nomadic life for young girls. You are known for having as close to a normal teenage life as possible. How were you able to find that balance?

A lot of that had to do with my family, especially my parents. They knew I wanted to have a balanced social life and that I wanted to stay as grounded as possible. That’s why I stayed in school, went to other activities and tried to make sure that the experience I had in high school as a teenager was as close to what my friends were doing. Of course training and competition didn’t make it exactly the same but I would say compared to most girls in gymnastics at a high level I had as normal an upbringing as possible. It can work if you have the right family and friends.

How important was your education in the process for you as well?

Very important. I have loved school and realize how valuable an education is and will be for the rest of my life. I stayed in high school as long as possible and then finished up when we were in California and I fully intend to go on to college after competing is over. I’m not sure what I will major in, I’d love to get multiple degrees and we are looking at both Stanford and Vanderbilt after competing is done.

What does the “Thank You Mom” program mean for your mom?

It is a great opportunity for us to give back to our moms, who in many cases are the touchstone, the reality check, the driver, the doctor, whatever we need to get the job done and to be able to compete. Sometimes we lose sight of how valuable they are to our success, and that’s success on any level, so being able to do this leading into Mother’s Day is very special.

Your mom has been a solid fixture in your professional life as well. Could you have done this without the support of your parents?

No. Not at all. My parents were able to find a way to make sure I got what I needed in terms of coaching and training and still make sure that when I was home I was part of the family with whatever is going on. The gave me the balance I needed from day one, nothing ever changed through all the challenges and the competitions and the Olympics and that is really what helped me become successful. It does not happen without them.

Since Beijing what are some of the highlights that people may not know about (outside of DWTS)?

I do a great deal of charity work, from The Make a Wish Foundation to the Leukemia Society to Ronald McDonald House, giving back, especially to kids, is really important to me. I also kept a diary throughout my training and competition and will be coming out with a book soon on what my experience has been like competing on such a big stage.

How are you feeling going into London, have you set any goals for success in terms of medaling?

I feel great, I am very excited for the competition and I have very realistic and attainable goals. I think we all do and are hoping that it is going to be even better than Beijing.

Would you want your kids to go into gymnastics, knowing the commitment that’s needed and the crazy, all access world we now live in?

That’s really hard to say at this point. I have loved the life but know what an amazing time commitment and sacrifice gymnastics can be. I would encourage my kids to enjoy whatever they like, but maybe playing soccer would be better!

As a veteran now, the gymnastic world has changed since you first started. What do you think of China’s rise in the sport and do you consider the Chinese your team’s biggest rival?

The Chinese have shown their interest and are definitely growing in the sport, but we know competition will come from many nations. The most important thing for us is to stay focused and execute in our events as individuals and we will be right there. It’s going to be an exciting time for Team USA and for gymnastics and I’m really excited to be part of what will go on in London.

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