Gymnast Shawn Johnson Claims Gold

Reigning gymnastics world champion Shawn Johnson finally won a gold medal at the Olympics after three second-place finishes. She won the balance-beam competition, completing a series of athletic flips and twists that gave her the edge over teammate Nastia Liukin.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

And in this segment, we head to the Olympics. We have several stories today. First, it was a big day for two American women who came to Beijing with high hopes. After three silver medals, gymnast Shawn Johnson has finally won Olympic gold. It came on the balance beam in the game's final gymnastics competition.

America's Sanya Richards did not fare as well. The runner was ahead in the final stretch of the 400 meters, but then she faded and settled for bronze.

NPR's Frank Langfitt has our story starting with the happy ending.

FRANK LANGFITT: Shawn Johnson came to China as a favorite. She was the world champ in the individual all around. But in event after event in Beijing, she kept coming up with silver.

Her coach Liang Chow said before tonight's competition, Johnson had a headache and was shaking.

Mr. LIANG CHOW (Coach): I would say there's a little bit more pressure on her shoulders. And today, we had a little bit of rough warm up.

LANGFITT: But when she came out to compete, the 4'9" Johnson gave one of her signature power performances. She moved through a routine with confidence, landing solidly after each jump and flip. And when she nailed her dismount, the crowd in Beijing's national indoor stadium sensed she would win the medal that had eluded her.

Ms. SHAWN JOHNSON (Olympic Gold Medalist): It feels amazing.

LANGFITT: That's Johnson talking to reporters after the event. The 16-year-old from West Des Moines was glowing and all grin.

Ms. JOHNSON: Finally, I have the gold on my favorite event and the event that I worked so hard on. It just - it's, I would say, the perfect ending for the story.

LANGFITT: Johnson was fighting nerves before the competition. But she said her coach helped her relax and just focus on the routine.

Ms. JOHNSON: I felt calm. I mean, for the first time, I think, in this whole experience, I really just let everything go. And I didn't think about what other girls had gotten or what the judges were going to give me. I just - it was - it's the only thing, so I wanted to finish it up as best as I could. And I just had fun.

LANGFITT: U.S. women's national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said winning gold was crucial for Johnson.

Ms. MARTHA KAROLYI (Coordinator, U.S. Women's National Team): She needed that. She was a little frustrated and, by not winning the (unintelligible). And I think this had her to feel that this is about herself and (unintelligible) real good.

LANGFITT: Johnson's teammate, Nastia Liukin, took silver in the balance beam. Chinese Cheng Fei won bronze. Overall, the U.S. women gymnast won eight medals in Beijing.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LANGFITT: The United States did not do as well in the women's 400 meters. Favorite Sanya Richards looked poised to win but then fell behind in the final stretch. Britain's Christine Ohuruogu surged to take the gold and Richards settled for bronze.

Ms. SANYA RICHARDS (Olympics Bronze medalist): I am very disappointed. But like someone told me, success is a journey. So, I will just continue along my journey, keep working hard and hopefully get some gold medals in the future.

LANGFITT: Ohuruogu almost didn't make it to Beijing. She had missed three out of competition drug test and the British Olympic Committee banned her from the games for life. But Ohuruogu argued she already served a 12-month suspension. She appealed the ban and won.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Beijing.

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Competing For Gold

The 11th day of the Olympic Games in Beijing saw Americans take gold medals with individual displays of strength, skill and strategy, while U.S. teams advanced toward their final rounds. China and the U.S. piled up more medals, but the host country maintained its lead in gold.

American gymnast Shawn Johnson edged teammate Nastia Liukin to win the gold medal on the balance beam. Although she's the reigning women's world champion, the 16-year-old Johnson had second-place finishes in the all-around, floor exercises and team event at the Olympics. She finally got her gold with a difficult and daring routine on the beam that topped Liukin's artistic performance. The bronze went to Cheng Fei of China.

Chinese gymnast Li Xiaopeng won his second gold medal of these games, with a near-perfect performance on the parallel bars. Yoo Wonchul of South Korea won the silver medal, with a routine that was more difficult but lacked Li's precision.

China's Zou Kai edged out American Jonathan Horton on the horizontal bar to win his third gold medal. Zou's other wins came in the men's team and floor exercise events.

Horton said after the competition that he had decided to risk a new routine that required him to successfully complete three tricky release moves.

"I wouldn't have medaled without it," he said.

American Finds Gold On The Mat

Henry Cejudo, a relative rookie in freestyle wrestling, claimed gold in the 55 kg class amid a field that included former world champions. The 21-year-old from Colorado Springs, Colo., defeated Japan's Tomohiro Matsunaga, the 2008 Asian champion, to win in the class for wrestlers under 121 pounds.

Cejudo, the son of undocumented Mexican immigrants, said his victory was a product of training "the American way."

British-born Anna Tunnicliffe won gold for the U.S. in the tippy mini sailboat known as a Laser Radial. The event combines skill and strategy, and the 26-year-old sailor needed both to fight her way back from a false start that put her far behind in the last race.

Tunnicliffe finished second in the final race, losing to Gintare Volungeviciute of Lithuania, but won the gold based on her overall points in 10 races.

U.S. Teams Also Advance

American teams advanced in several events. The U.S. women's water polo team beat Australia 9-8 in the semifinal. Guaranteed at least a silver medal, they'll face the winner of a match between Hungary and the Netherlands on Thursday.

The American beach volleyball team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh moved on to the finals by trouncing a team from Brazil.

The U.S. now leads in overall medals at these games with 79 to China's 76. The next closest contender for overall medals is Russia, with 42. The distribution of medals has been remarkably even among American athletes, with 26 gold, 26 silver and 27 bronze. By contrast, China is top-heavy, with 43 gold medals, 14 silver and 19 bronze.

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