NASCAR: Olympic gymnast trades dancing shoes for racing helmet
By Mike Cranston
CONCORD ó From winning “Dancing With the Stars” to riding in a stock car at 170 mph, gold medal-winning gymnast Shawn Johnson had quite a week.
Five days removed from her TV dancing victory, Johnson was bouncing around Lowe’s Motor Speedway on Sunday, changing a tire and hanging out with legendary driver Bobby Allison before the Coca-Cola 600.
The 17-year-old high school junior was having plenty of fun ó while acknowledging a big decision looms on whether to commit to the London Olympics.
“Once I go home and this settles down, I’ll get back into training and start getting back into shape and seeing where that takes me,” Johnson said. “As for 2012, I haven’t made a decision yet.”
Johnson won four medals last summer in Beijing: the gold on balance beam and silvers in the team, floor exercise and all-around. The winner of the Sullivan Award, given to the nation’s top amateur athlete, then stopped gymnastics training to become the youngest competitor in “Dancing With the Stars.”
She beat fellow finalists Gilles Marini and Melissa Rycroft on Tuesday for the crown. Then on Saturday she was at Charlotte, riding as a passenger with former driver Kyle Petty in her first trip to a NASCAR track.
“He actually got to 170 mph. I was squealing I guess. I couldn’t even hear myself,” Johnson said. “They said they played it back and I hit another note every time he shifted.”
Johnson also did a backflip off a car, mimicking driver Carl Edwards’ celebratory ritual after winning races.
“I stuck the landing,” Johnson said, smiling.
On Sunday, the pint-sized Johnson didn’t have enough strength to jack a car, but did change a tire and put gas in a car before posing for pictures with the three-time race champion Allison in a promotion with Coca-Cola.
She was to watch the race with her parents before heading to San Francisco for a charity dancing event with former Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi .
But soon, Johnson will return to the gym and make a decision on whether she’ll try to be a 20-year-old Olympian in 2012.
“I don’t really think I’m in a position to make a decision,” Johnson said. “Not until I’m in shape and competing again.”
Salisbury is in the midst of its sculpture show, “Discover What’s Outside,” which is generating high marks and high interest.... read more