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Lessons from Gold Medalist Shawn Johnson’s Heartbreaking Secret

Would winning a gold medal at the Olympics make you feel fulfilled…as if all your dreams had come true? Think again.

As this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio are set to begin in August, one former Olympic gymnast opened up about her highs and lows at the games and how her faith factored in.

In a new video for the Christian web series, “I Am Second,” Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson – who’s also the youngest champion of ABC ‘s “Dancing with the Stars” – talked to CBN News about her emotional struggles at the Olympics.

America’s Sweetheart

In 2008 at the age of 16, Johnson, nicknamed “America’s Sweetheart,” was the nation’s fresh-faced hope for the summer games in Beijing. She was considered a shoe-in to win four gold medals in gymnastics.

That’s a lot of pressure for anyone, especially a 16 year old.

Johnson came up short. In a devastating blow right off the bat, she failed to win the gold she’d expected.

Instead she earned a silver medal. To some, an Olympic silver would be well worth celebrating. But it wasn’t good enough – not for her and not for her fans.

It was a crushing defeat. She remembers the person who presented the medal whispering, “I’m sorry,” as he placed it around her neck.

“I felt like I had failed the world,” she recalled. “I felt like since the world saw me as nothing else, that if I failed at being a gymnast, I had failed at being a human being.”

Johnson won two more silver medals, for a total of three second-places finishes.

Finally, in her last competition of the 2008 games, she won the gold. But instead of feeling overjoyed at achieving the goal she’d worked so hard for, she felt a certain letdown, an emptiness inside.

“I distinctly remember [thinking] in 2008, [the gold medal] not being the greatest thing in the world,” she said. “And I think it’s that validation – that there’s always more.”

God is all that matters.

“God is the answer to everything. And Jesus sacrificed his life on the cross so that when I stood up there, and I was given that gold medal, yes, it’s a monumental and amazing experience – and a wonderful thing – but it’s not the end-all-be-all,” she said.

In the video, Johnson talks about her success on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Sadly, she shares, public criticism of her appearance on the show tarnished the experience. Johnson attributes that to her drive for perfectionism and the need for approval, both creating tension in her.

Try Again?

In 2012, Johnson decided to try again for an Olympic gold medal sweep, this time at the summer games in London. But it never materialized.

One day as she was working out on the balance beam, God told her to walk away from it all.

She did.

That obedience taught her what she needed most: whether you’re dealing with stress or defeat or the hollow feeling that often accompanies worldly success, Jesus is the answer.

“I can work my whole life to become the CEO of a company, or to make a certain amount of money, or to win 12 more Olympic gold medals, but it’s not the purpose in life, and He will always be my greatest reward and my proudest reward,” she said.

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