A conversation with 2008 Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson, recorded for the Freakonomics Radio series “The Hidden Side of Sports.”
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
If you'd like to listen to free economic radio without ads the place to do that is sticker premium five dollars a month and you can get a free month trial by going to stick your premium dot com and use a promo code freak. You also get access to all our bonus. Episodes and you'll be supporting our show to that sticker premium: dot, com, promo code, freak thanks, hey there, I'm Stephen Governor- and this is a free economic radio, extra, our full interview with Sean Johnson, whose peering, in our hidden side of sport series Johnson one gold medal on the balanced beam in the two thousand eight Olympics, as well as silver metals in the floor all round and team competitions. This interview was conducted by Freakonomics radio producer. Harry Huggins Johnson was incredibly candid about the path to becoming an elite athlete, and
conflicted feelings for the sport, the changed your life? You can your many more of these full interviews from our sport series and other episodes by subscribing to steer premium. You also get early access to our special freakin. I'm radio live episode. It's like our game, show tell me something I don't know just go to: stick your premium dot com, slash for economics and use promo code freakin on extra one month, free array, I hope you enjoy this conversation with Sean Johnson and thanks for listening, the first off. Can you say your name and what you do, and I don't know if you do have you started going professional you by Sean EAST, or are you still at trying to work that out trying to work it out. I think more social Johnson, professionally voter in then John S, son side,
and I was a former professional olympic gymnast, now turned I s. Arms social media influencers that three weren't I think, Sir yeah. I first want to start with your child You said that you dont come from her particularly athletic family, so I'm curious Are you got into such an athletic sport? Well, I mean My dad candidate, every sport, when I or when he was growing up. He was a hockey player. He rustled, he did be MAX. He raced Mono acts Mono Cross Sprint Cross having everything. He was kind of this dreadful junkie. My mom on the other side, was kind of that stereotypical shoes, leader a little bit. She also dead can a recreational gymnastics but nothing serious. She ran cross country for I think a week, and then that was about it a hum and then, when I came along, I think I was just as bundle Leonard G that they had no idea what to do with
you put me in a gymnastics class, a mommy and me class, and I was like two and one slash two years old and I just found love with it and just ran with it so you started very young and then around six. I think he started training with the coaches. There went on to take you to the Olympics. First, ball, how lucky reviewed to end up with those coaches, Incredibly, lucky to end up with my coaches, it was kind of this free occurrence. I started out Jim called Urban nailed, Danton Gymnastics and it was like the only gymnastics place within. Thirty mile driving radioset of Iowa and I I did it was awesome. Bed chow, my coat I took me to the Olympics, opened up a gem about five minutes. My parents house, when I was about five or six years old and my parents in that switching me to him. Jim because it saved gas money and who is more affordable,
for them and the lifestyle that I was choosing. So that was how we, not there. It was his kind of I guess meant to be bet super. Lucky though I do, I mean that's one way that you might have been a little luck. You is like this great coach is great trainer. Moving to your town, you think there's a lot of luck involved in because being successful as successful as you been. Oh, my gosh. I yes, absolutely. I think a ton of luck is involved and I think that might make it seem like I don't know if we're successful in elite athletes they're not as elite as you would think, but I feel like with locked and with elite athletics, it's just all about falling into the right place and time How long does miracle math kind of equation that has said equal? The perfect answer, I mean you, you can't get her back behind see you can't have the flew on the wrong day. You have to find the right coat
the right city, I feel afford it. You have to be the right age, it's always random things, and when do you like get all the people who fit that equation? You her not left with many people, so I guess I was just the best of the very few of them. Asian, obviously any athlete whose achieved what you have in any sport, whether its gymnastics are footballer baseball hockey whenever you have to start taking that activity very serious. A very very early on in your life can be Cato at that moment when you decided to invest yourself in their ingenuity. thanks so much from such a young age yeah, I am There was a little bit unique in that sense that I was never that child that turned ten years old and said: oh my gosh, I'm going to be an olympian. I need to give up.
breathing and everyone in just commit my life to the Olympics. I had this unique story of you: no blue collar family, all American Midwest, just kind of parents that wanted me to be normal and they push me to be in so many sports, and so, activities in tried, the Oboe and Clare and adds and piano factor, has said and Mark try. All in all these things, that kind of distracted me from this olympic dream that I had been a kind of always gave me this perspective of I love everything I love gymnastics more and so, whenever I was out gymnastics practice, I kind of focused more than any other activity in kind of gave more effort. They are because I knew that was my favorite and I think I was probably fourteen years old, two years before the olympics- it's weird to say I was fourteen years old in talking talking about the Olympics. That's just a baby
Nevertheless, I do guys for them there. I know It does so weird to think I'm twenty six years old now and feel like I can never do the Olympics, let alone being a sixteen year old baby. But when I was fourteen, I made them Zeman inserted traveling the world, and I think that was the first time I thought to myself. Maybe maybe I could do the same and that's that that normal right, like most gymnast from what I've heard it have to make that decision later, like make at not have to, but they make that decision from a very, very early age and her until, like those training camps where they don't get in touch with outside world than their private, tutors and staff. Do you actually like went to high school full time when you are training and end, you kept a semi, as you said, he kept like at least partially regular childhood Betty. Do you think that level of an
these kind of unnecessary and sums words, but not others, and why do you think you were able to do without it? great question home. So I had this interesting sat up with my couch. My coach was chinese, born and raised Chinese when he was three years old living in China. He was taken away from his family and actually potent you kind of their olympic system and raised to be an olympic gymnast in China and he kind of others? career within the genetics world in China that I was he almost traumatized him. He lost his childhood. He was lost his family and in this trend, this crazy career So when he was twenty one years old he actually left to China, came the United States opened a Jim in West Timor in Iowa of all places and had this dream this American,
dream to raise in olympian or Olympians Ireland. Peons, thou are also children and had a balance in life and were you no fun, loving and had a true childhood, and I was. Really really blast to fall under his his guidance in his coaching because he may I go to school, I mean not even let me he kind of demanded that we go to a full day, a school. He encouraged us to go to school dances too good, a dairy queen. After practice he incentivize a spy letting asleep over at the Jim and have popcorn and ice cream, and he just was fun, loving guy, and I think because he let us have fun as children, but yet pushed us and challenged us at the same time. It challenged us and encouraged us to go farther in sport, and I feel I would the intensity of a lie. Athletics. You weed out a lot of people just because you burn them out so quickly, so
no. I don't think the intensity is necessary. I think you need intense training, but in small doses, not you know that eighty hours a week, people think Raymond. I renew still did make the decision to go all four eight fourteen like use everything yeah. Do do you think that, having made that decision, that young makes you a little bit different than other people, your age, a little that I would say deciding at fourteen years old that I was going to devote kind of my teenage childhood to the Olympic Games. Kind of gave up that that area of my life of anyone's life has kind of a teenager. Adam of kind of dreaming of the things that they would become later on, I mean for me using to being a olympian, was choosing to be an for you, one moment at the details
eight Olympics for that. You know short period of time and then, after that, I'd have to start over. So I think it makes me a little bit different because this in his dealings for over, I kind of was set back in a way because I I had already complete did that that future goal and I had to figure out what was next and then the other thing that brings up and then we'll move on from your early years, but nothing that brings up to me is that when you do that's a unit, especially with people who make who go into gymnastics full throttle earlier than you did you? I mean a kid in your basically putting your life in the hands of adults, who aren't your parents like the coaches and trainers and stuff from a very young age? Did it feel like? Did you ever feel kind of vulnerability as a young athlete
Yes, and no I mean I, I was a very, very fortunate childs within the gymnastics community to have very loving, very, very protective people around me. My coach had very very strict rules when it to anybody kind of being now, another opinion or another coach or another professional figure in my professional career, whether it was a trainer or another coach or even the United States coach. I mean everything had to be ok by him. He was how, like my protector and I think there was a vulnerability there, because I trusted him so much, but I only trusted him too much because my parents trusted him and he I mean Given today's society, I can thankfully, and say that he kept me safe, and I am very grateful for that bring back, and
clear before you even go to Beijing? You gotta allow out of attention. I remember you and ads for Coca COLA, Mcdonald, and this is all before even competed on they. If this is all before the Olympics. They, I think I saw it inducted in the Iowa Hall of Pride and they had a better standard of you at the state? Fair, which is amazing. So your man, in another athlete along snap then a foul and I'm just curious how your experience with that level of attention compares to his being that his sport is in the public eye much more regularly, but my not as much if, with the same as intensity. As yours as. well yeah. I think it's completely different I love that I did Marian awfully because I don't like it would have work
out another way, we are so competitive by nature with everything it just imbalances, each other out to compete against each other. But with gymnastics encounter with that that celebrity status that crazy, you know the thing that happens right after the Olympics, I think, would the Olympics and especially gymnastics. You have this sixteen year old child on the screen. They you're watching on NBC, for. one hour night Ford for weeks and you kind of sea this icon of an athlete. You don't get to know them, you don't get another spore. You only see them once every four years and I think it- It puts you on this pedestal as a celebrity athlete where you do get like butter, statues, and to have those weird things right after, but it's kind of a commodity that kind of comes and goes, and I think the difference between Gymnastics Harlem
sports and something like the NFL is no my husband might not be one of those huge names that exact amongst every NFL player, with player within the NFL history, but yeah he's a part of an industry that the entire world knows end watch every Monday or Sunday night or watch during precision or watch training during off season. I mean. The world is committed to, whereas the Olympics isn't, sir. I think in a way he's a lot bigger and slavishly. Then I am disregards people are such avid fans of the inner fell, but you did get that kind of supervision, treatment during the Olympics like when you were there in step. Did you feel like they, the sport of gymnastic sketchy at the kind of like as superstar treatment in general at the Olympics. Did you I mean? Did you feel singled out anything or did just kind of your too focused on
everything going on at the time I was, I was pretty bad. On everything going on, but I would say yes, the dimness and kind of gymnastic says a sport as sport. at the Olympic Games is a very, very popular sports. I think when you walk on the olympic Village when you're doing interviews when you get those mean you're a class when indoors command and sponsorship and all of these opportunities. I things gymnastics along with like tat the old and swimming our kind of the top three so yeah three in and of weird way of saying that I did feel pretty. ES first hour, but then for the rest of the season, like that of rock going out will impact than when you were still at when you are trying to qualify again after that. Well, what is gymnastics like because I know a lot of people dont really follow. It then unfulfilled, sadly, by
What is it, what is it like, then? The rat? What's the regular season like internet access refers, are non gymnastic head listeners? gymnastics during off season with, like celebrity status, are our media coverage. I mean the eat, you kind of soft face of the earth. Nobody cares. Gymnastics is one of those sportswear people care a lot about it during the Olympics once every four years, but then outside of that it's kind of like well, what is gymnastics? They don't care which is weird during the offseason, because that's when the blood sweat the terrors, you know that the dedicate and you ve put in your entire life and the real purpose of your sport. That's gonna! Where it lies, can you run through like what the regular off even the regulatory am Non olympic season looks like I just think people are so unfamiliar. What, like all the other events that are happening throughout a year have, throughout the three years.
yeah and Aussies in year for kind of ITALY. Level or an olympic level Jimmy
Transcript generated on 2021-01-20.