Shawn Johnson Reveals Why Winning Her Gold Medal Was "The Worst Thing"

The Olympic gymnast says she was struggling during that time in her life.

Winning an Olympic medal is the epitome of success for most athletes in their respective fields, but getting there can take a toll physically and mentally. Athletes endure immense pressure and endless hours of preparation just to make it to the Olympics, which is probably why some of them don't remember it fondly. In fact, Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson East recently said that winning her 2008 Olympic gold medal was actually "the worst thing." Read on to find out why Johnson has mixed feelings about her achievement.

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Gymnast Shawn Johnson said she developed an eating disorder while competing for the Olympics.

United States' Shawn Johnson competes on the beam during the women's team final of the artistic gymnastics event of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing on August 13, 2008. China won the gold, while United States won the silver and Romania the bronze.
FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images

Johnson East said that she feels "very sad" looking back at her time competing for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, during a July 15 appearance on the Dinner Party with Jeremy Fall podcast. According to the gymnast, she developed an eating disorder during her time competing, which was only exacerbated by some of the "flaws" of the sport, including the lack of nutritionists and psychologists available to young athletes. When she competed in the 2008 Olympics, Johnson East was only 16 years old.

"For me as a kid, having this thought of, 'Maybe if I looked thinner, these judges might like my performance better'… I didn't know how to get that result in a healthy way, except for, 'If I eat less, I'll lose weight,'" she explained. "And because of that, I developed that eating disorder."

She called her 2008 gold medal win "the worst thing" because of it.

Shawn Johnson competes in the artistic gymnastics event at the National Indoor Stadium on Day 11 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 19, 2008 in Beijing, China.
Cameron Spencer via Getty Images

In 2008, Johnson East won the Olympic gold medal for the balance beam. Unfortunately, that helped her internalize the wrong message. "When I started to starve myself and jeopardize my performance, but still win a gold medal, that is probably one of the worst things that could have happened," Johnson East said. "Because that told me it was worth it."

Johnson East said that, at the time, her gold medal win falsely reinforced the idea that she needed to starve herself to garner other accomplishments. "And so when it came to boyfriends, when it came to Dancing With the Stars, when it came to a photo shoot, if I starved myself, I would get the respect of whoever it was that I was dealing with," she said, referencing her time competing on DWTS in 2009 and 2012.

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Johnson East said retiring from gymnastics was a "turning point" for her.

BEVERLY HILLS - SEP 27: Shawn Johnson at the Teen Vogue's 10th Anniversary Annual Young Hollywood Party on September 27, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California
Joe Seer / Shutterstock.com

In 2010, Johnson East injured her knee but continued to train over the next two years in order to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. In June 2012, however, she decided not to go on, and announced she would be retiring from the sport a week before the Olympic trials, citing her knee injury. Now, Johnson East says that was a "turning point" for her life.

"I was so happy and so free, to be not a part of that world anymore. And that's where I met my husband, and he completely changed my life," she said.

She is now married with her second child on the way.

LOS ANGELES - FEB 26: Andrew East, Shawn Johnson at the Elton John Oscar Viewing Party 2017 at the City of West Hollywood Park on February 26, 2017 in West Hollywood, CA
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

Johnson East married professional football player Andrew East in 2016, four years after she quit gymnastics. She still went to London in 2012 to support USA Gymnastics at the Summer Olympics, which is where she ended up meeting her now-husband's brother, Guy East, who introduced the pair. The couple welcomed their first child, a daughter named Drew, in Nov. 2019.

"I wouldn't change anything for the world. I love that I went through it. It was very hard and I don't wish it on anyone, but I've had these tough experiences that make me a stronger mom that will allow me to teach Drew how to be strong as well," Johnson East said in 2020. Now, she is pregnant with her second child, a baby boy, who is due this month.

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Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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