Shawn Johnson in the driver's seat
Shawn Johnson will blog for espnW throughout her training for the Olympics in London this summer. Read her previous entry here, and check back in March for more on her journey.
When I was younger, my coach, Liang Chow, made all the decisions. I would go to the gym for practice, do exactly what Chow told me to do, go home, come back and start all over again. If Chow told me to do 50 squat jumps, I did 50 squat jumps. His guidance definitely paid off: Four years ago in Beijing, I won one gold and three silver medals. To say it was a good competition doesn't even begin to describe it.
But four years ago I wasn't really training to be an Olympic gymnast. As I advanced through the levels of the sport, I always let things take their own course. It sounds funny, but the 2008 Olympics were something that just kind of happened, and I was lucky they came at a point when I was uninjured and well prepared. As a gymnast, you can't ask for much more.
The road to this summer's Olympic trials has been very different and, in many ways, a much bigger challenge. This time the Olympics are the ultimate goal, and the Games are constantly on my mind. I'm not the kid I was four years ago, either -- my body and mind are both more mature. There's also been the torn left ACL I sustained on a ski trip two years ago, which has been a difficult and often frustrating injury. But as the 2012 Olympics approach, this time I'm in the driver's seat, no longer just along for the ride. And that feels really good.
Since 2008, I've become more hands-on about many aspects of my training. Working with Chow now feels more like a collaboration between equals rather than a traditional coach/pupil relationship. Part of it is because of my surgically repaired knee, which requires more attention and care. Earlier this year, when my knee wasn't as strong as I felt it needed to be, I decided to go to the Michael Johnson Performance Center in McKinney, Texas, for an intensive six-week program custom-designed to strengthen it and prepare my body for the months ahead. Although he supported the program, Chow didn't push me to do it -- the decision was mine alone.
I also plan practices around my schedule, and Chow and I make decisions together. If I'm having a really hard day, he trusts that I know my body, my mind and what I need. If I wake up and need nothing more than to take a day off and sleep and recover, he respects that. He understands I'm not trying to get out of practice, but he knows that this time around I'm in control, and I know what it's going to take to get my body in optimal condition.
One thing hasn't changed: I'm still not doing more than 25 hours of training each week in the gym. (Most elite gymnasts work out 30 to 40 hours per week.) That worked for me in 2008, and it still does. Many gymnasts break or get burned out because of the hours they're putting in, and it's unnecessary. I still put in 22 or 23 hours per week at Chow's gym, but I'm doing a lot more outside of it, including going to a fitness center and doing cardio, Pilates, yoga and anything extra that gets me in better shape but also eases my mind and gets me out of the gym for a while. Limiting my hours has kept me healthy and far less stressed.
My approach to gymnastics in Beijing was heavily based on the amount of difficulty I could do. Although Chow and I are definitely planning on upgrading many of the skills I performed last year, I'm aiming more for clean, consistent routines rather than quite as much spectacular difficulty as I had in the past. I don't have the energy or the body anymore to throw as many of the hardest tricks on every event, so I'm being smart about the elements I choose. Staying healthy and consistent is paramount.
I'm still not sure when my first competition of the year will be, but a meet in Italy at the end of March is on our radar. I'm looking forward to getting back out on the floor and eventually showing off my new floor routine, which may not be what everyone expects!
Going into this year, I have been trying not to have too many big expectations. One thing you hear a lot from gymnasts is that they just want to do what they're capable of. To me, that means getting completely healthy and in top Olympic shape. Thinking about the Olympics can get a little too overwhelming at times, so I try to make the smaller goals more important: having good practices each day, getting my knee back to normal, keeping myself healthy and happy and doing what I love. That's what it was all about in the beginning, and hopefully that's what will get me back to the Games.