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Gymnast Shawn Johnson Claims Gold


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

And in this segment, we head to the Olympics. We have several stories today. First, it was a big day for two American women who came to Beijing with high hopes. After three silver medals, gymnast Shawn Johnson has finally won Olympic gold. It came on the balance beam in the game's final gymnastics competition.

America's Sanya Richards did not fare as well. The runner was ahead in the final stretch of the 400 meters, but then she faded and settled for bronze.

NPR's Frank Langfitt has our story starting with the happy ending.

FRANK LANGFITT: Shawn Johnson came to China as a favorite. She was the world champ in the individual all around. But in event after event in Beijing, she kept coming up with silver.

Her coach Liang Chow said before tonight's competition, Johnson had a headache and was shaking.

Mr. LIANG CHOW (Coach): I would say there's a little bit more pressure on her shoulders. And today, we had a little bit of rough warm up.

LANGFITT: But when she came out to compete, the 4'9" Johnson gave one of her signature power performances. She moved through a routine with confidence, landing solidly after each jump and flip. And when she nailed her dismount, the crowd in Beijing's national indoor stadium sensed she would win the medal that had eluded her.

Ms. SHAWN JOHNSON (Olympic Gold Medalist): It feels amazing.

LANGFITT: That's Johnson talking to reporters after the event. The 16-year-old from West Des Moines was glowing and all grin.

Ms. JOHNSON: Finally, I have the gold on my favorite event and the event that I worked so hard on. It just - it's, I would say, the perfect ending for the story.

LANGFITT: Johnson was fighting nerves before the competition. But she said her coach helped her relax and just focus on the routine.

Ms. JOHNSON: I felt calm. I mean, for the first time, I think, in this whole experience, I really just let everything go. And I didn't think about what other girls had gotten or what the judges were going to give me. I just - it was - it's the only thing, so I wanted to finish it up as best as I could. And I just had fun.

LANGFITT: U.S. women's national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said winning gold was crucial for Johnson.

Ms. MARTHA KAROLYI (Coordinator, U.S. Women's National Team): She needed that. She was a little frustrated and, by not winning the (unintelligible). And I think this had her to feel that this is about herself and (unintelligible) real good.

LANGFITT: Johnson's teammate, Nastia Liukin, took silver in the balance beam. Chinese Cheng Fei won bronze. Overall, the U.S. women gymnast won eight medals in Beijing.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LANGFITT: The United States did not do as well in the women's 400 meters. Favorite Sanya Richards looked poised to win but then fell behind in the final stretch. Britain's Christine Ohuruogu surged to take the gold and Richards settled for bronze.

Ms. SANYA RICHARDS (Olympics Bronze medalist): I am very disappointed. But like someone told me, success is a journey. So, I will just continue along my journey, keep working hard and hopefully get some gold medals in the future.

LANGFITT: Ohuruogu almost didn't make it to Beijing. She had missed three out of competition drug test and the British Olympic Committee banned her from the games for life. But Ohuruogu argued she already served a 12-month suspension. She appealed the ban and won.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.