Most of the arena serenaded American Shawn Johnson with applause, and a United Nations-worth of gymnasts paid her homage. "Congratulations," her coach told...
STUTTGART, Germany — Most of the arena serenaded American Shawn Johnson with applause, and a United Nations-worth of gymnasts paid her homage.
“Congratulations,” her coach told her, “you’re the world champion.”
The 15-year-old from West Des Moines, Iowa, soaked it all in with a big smile of wonder and delight, accepting the cheers with the grace of the queen she has become. But it wasn’t until she finally saw her parents and felt their arms wrapped around her that the magnitude of what she had accomplished hit.
Johnson won the all-around title at the world gymnastics championships Friday, adding to a magnificent, whirlwind year with a performance full of megawatt-powered jumps and smiles. And a mere 11 months away, the Beijing Olympics.
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“They just said, ‘I’m so proud of you,’ and, ‘Enjoy every moment of it because it’s real,’ ” said Johnson, unable to stop smiling. “I just broke down. I started crying. I couldn’t stop. It’s a dream come true. It’s a feeling no one can ever replace.”
Johnson finished with 61.875 points, a comfortable 1.25 ahead of Romania’s Steliana Nistor. Jade Barbosa of Brazil and last year’s champion, Vanessa Ferrari of Italy, tied for third.
Nastia Liukin, who passed on her title as U.S. champion to Johnson last month, finished fifth after falling off the beam.
“It’s a little disappointing just knowing that, if I didn’t have that mistake, I was probably able to place in the top three. So I’m just replaying that over in my mind,” said Liukin, tears filling her eyes. “But I’m really excited for Shawn.
“It’s great to see someone like that. It’s great to know she’s on your team, especially with the Olympics coming up.”
The U.S. women won the team title Wednesday.
In the men’s all-around, China’s Yang Wei won his second straight title despite an ugly fall off the high bar, becoming the first man since 1926 to repeat as champion. Fabian Hambuechen won the silver and Hisashi Mizutori of Japan was third.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s victory is the culmination of a journey that took off with a trip to the post office two years ago.
Shortly after Johnson qualified for elite-level gymnastics, her coach, Liang Chow, sent national-team coordinator Martha Karolyi a highlight tape.
It was a bold move by the young coach — especially considering the U.S. women had been raking in bling since 2002. But Karolyi liked what she saw, and invited Johnson and Chow to a national-team training camp.
“From the first time she showed up at the training camp, the little bubbly girl, I said, ‘This girl will be somebody one day,’ ” Karolyi said.
“This is the day when it happened.”