Shawn Johnson East says spending the Olympics with her family is ‘better’ than winning

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Shawn Johnson East won her Gold Medal (and three Silvers) at the Beijing Olympics 16 years ago. Now, in a new interview with Parents, she’s opening up about heading back to the Olympics—this time, as a commentator for Yahoo, with her entire family in tow.

“I’ve been telling people I remember being at the Olympics in 2008 thinking this is the epitome of success and joy in my life,” she said. But she added that going to the Paris Olympics next month with her husband and their three kids, 4-year-old Drew, 2-year-old Jett, and 6-month-old Bear, has her reflecting on that. “I’m going back with my husband and kids, and it feels so much better—like this is better than any gold medal.”

Johnson East met her husband, Andrew, after she had already retired from gymnastics, so that part of her life isn’t something she’s gotten to share with him before.

“I think there is something really special about the Olympics that are so unique, and they’re so grand. It was such a big pivotal part of my life that my husband didn’t get to experience,” she said. “To be able to kind of share that with him feels special. And being able to share that part of my life with my kids a little bit seems pretty cool.”

She knows that attending as a commentator will be different, but that it’s time for a new generation of gymnasts to carry the torch.

“Do I miss it? Yeah, I think I’ll always miss it. It was and is a passion of my life,” she continued. “That being said, no, I don’t think I could have done a comeback. My career ended. And it was supposed to end.”

Johnson East added, “The last time I got to watch Olympic gymnastics in the arena was in 2016 in Brazil, and there’s nothing like it. Obviously, it’s sentimental to me thinking back to 2008, but watching these girls actually live out their dream is really powerful.”

These days, Johnson East and her husband have a new focus. They’ve started the Moment Makers Foundation, which provides grants to athletes who need financial assistance — especially athletes who are parents and need help with childcare so they can compete.

“What if I was competing this year, and we had our kids? And then it hit me that there are a lot of competing athletes who do have children,” she explained. “And the logistics of that, in my mind, I was like if this is ever some sort of barrier for them to compete, or to feel comfortable, or to feel at all confident in their performance. I would hate that for them.”