Johnson eager for Olympics – Winter Games, that is

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Shawn Johnson is getting Olympic fever.


The gold medal gymnast will carry the Olympic torch when it passes through Calgary on Jan. 18-19, and will be at the Vancouver Games with one of her sponsors. She also teamed up with short track speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno in a promotional campaign for Nestle’s new Crunch bar.

“It’s complete deja vu,” she said earlier this week. “Honestly, I think it’s going to be a lot harder than I thought (to watch). I’d give anything to be competing in Vancouver.”

Or, perhaps, London.

Johnson’s life has been a whirlwind since the Beijing Games. She did a nationwide tour with her teammates, competed on “Dancing with the Stars” (she won), and traveled the country for appearances and promotional work. She and Nastia Liukin were reunited for the “Skating and Gymnastics Spectacular” show, which is sponsored by Progressive and will be shown Sunday on NBC.

Johnson, who turns 18 on Jan. 19, is wrapping up her senior year of high school with a private tutor — “I am weeks from being done. I can’t wait.” — and has started thinking about college.

But when she’ll go will depend on a lot of things, including gymnastics. Johnson was back in the gym last month working with coach Liang Chow. Though she hasn’t made any decisions, she wants to get to the point where she could start training again if she wants.

“Right now, I don’t even have the option of returning just because I’m not in the physical shape to be competing,” she said. “I want to get in good enough shape that, if I want to, I can do it. If not, then I’ll do whatever.”

Asked when she’ll make that decision, Johnson laughed.

“I’d love to make a decision by tomorrow,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to happen.”


MARKED UP: Evgeni Plushenko caused quite a stir by winning his eighth Russian title last month, and not just because he did it with a bum knee.

The Olympic champion scored 271.59 points in his Dec. 26 victory, which would shatter the current world record if the International Skating Union counted marks from national championships. But the ISU does not, knowing that judges at national championships tend to be a bit enthusiastic with their marks.

It happens all over the world, including the United States.

The 100.09 points Plushenko scored in the short program would be a record, too, breaking his own mark set at the Turin Olympics.

“It really won’t have any effect when it comes to scoring at the Olympics,” reigning U.S. men’s champion Jeremy Abbott said.

“Scores at national championships across the world are always inflated. I felt my scores last year at the U.S. championships were very high. Deserved or undeserved, I don’t know,” Abbott said. “But when you get on the international scene, it doesn’t have an effect.”

Still, Plushenko’s performance was impressive considering he was forced off the ice for several days two weeks before Russian championships with a sore left knee.

Knee problems hastened Plushenko’s retirement after his dominant performance at the Turin Olympics. He returned this season and didn’t have any problems until early December, when his left knee became sore from all of the quadruple jumps he was practicing.

Elsewhere in Europe, Carolina Kostner’s puzzling slide continues, so much so there’s no guarantee the 2008 world silver medalist will make it to Vancouver.

Kostner was upset by Valentina Marchei at last month’s Italian championships. Italy can send only one woman to Vancouver, and will announce its choice after the European championships, which are Jan. 18-24 in Tallinn, Estonia.

Despite her troubles, Kostner would seem to have the edge. She is one of the world’s most elegant and breathtaking skaters when she’s on, and is a perennial medal contender at Europeans and worlds. Marchei, whose father was a two-time Olympian in the marathon, has never finished higher than 11th at worlds.


FAMILY FIRST: Hannah Kearney can count on the support of at least a few Canadians at the Vancouver Olympics.

Kearney, the top-ranked American in moguls and No. 2 in the world, will go to Vancouver as a medal favorite, and her biggest competition is likely to come from the Canadians. Kristi Richards is No. 1 in the world, and Jennifer Heil is the reigning Olympic champion.

“The good thing about Canada is I think they respect elite athlete performances, regardless of who it comes from,” Kearney said. “And, as a bonus, I’m half-Canadian. So I’m hoping I can have the run of my life and they can kind of get behind me.”

Kearney’s mother grew up in Montreal, and she has an aunt and uncle and cousins who live in Vancouver.

“I think she’s going to choose her daughter over her nation,” Kearney said. “I would bank on it.”


LET IT ROCK: National anthems won’t be the only music heard at the Vancouver Games.

Nelly Furtado, The Fray, Barenaked Ladies, Estelle, Theory of a Deadman and Usher are among the headliners for concerts that will be part of the nightly victory ceremonies in Vancouver and Whistler. The day’s medal winners will be honored at the ceremonies, which also will include video highlights of the athletes’ performances.

Tickets for the Whistler ceremonies are limited to local residents, and are being distributed through a contest that began Monday. But the medal presentations will be televised, and the concerts on Feb. 13 (All American Rejects), Feb. 22 (to be announced) and Feb. 27 (Usher) will be broadcast live.

Tickets for the Vancouver ceremonies, which will be held at BC Place, are available at, Web site for the Vancouver Olympics.


OUT FOR IMPROVEMENT: Brazil has tapped Steve Roush, the key architect of the United States’ 110-medal haul at the Beijing Olympics, to boost its performances in 2012 and, more importantly, the 2016 Games that it will host.

Roush’s TSE Consulting will work with Brazil’s Olympic committee and its national federations to improve Olympic results. Brazil won 15 medals in Beijing, including three golds. The 2012 Games in London will be used as a milestone for the program, but the real goal is 2016, when Rio de Janeiro will host the first Olympics in South America.

“The arrival of Steve Roush will bring an immense contribution to the development of Olympic sports in Brazil,” said Carlos Nuzman, president of Brazil’s Olympic Committee.

Roush was the U.S. Olympic Committee’s chief of sport performance from 2003 until last January. Since joining TSE Consulting, he has taken jobs trying to build Olympic programs in several countries.


OLYMPIC RINGS: There was a familiar name among the winners at the junior U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Katia Shpilband, daughter of top ice dance coach Igor Shpilband, won the intermediate ladies title. The 13-year-old even got an assist from dear old dad, who set the circular step sequence in her free skate program, done to a Russian waltz. Intermediate is the level below novice. … Brian Stocks, who oversaw the resurgence of British gymnastics as the national federation’s chief executive officer, retired Dec. 31. Stocks will continue to be involved in the sport as a member of the International Gymnastics Federation’s executive committee.