Johnson looks at big picture in missing world team

By NANCY ARMOUR | September 22, 2011 | 6:55 PM EDT

Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson is headed for Guadalajara, Mexico, not Tokyo.

Which is fine, because the ultimate destination is London.

Johnson was passed over for the team selected Wednesday night for next month's world gymnastics championships in Tokyo. She was chosen a non-traveling alternate instead, and also will compete at the Pan American Games.

"This isn't a disappointment at all," Johnson said Thursday. "I feel like I've made a lot of progress in the last year and I'm happy with where I am. I wasn't the best pick for the team, but I'm going to help out as best I can if needed."

Johnson only returned to competition in July, and is still recovering from reconstructive surgery on her left knee. Though she made big improvements from her first competition to last month's U.S. championships and again from nationals to the selection camps, she's not quite ready for worlds, the main qualifier for next year's London Olympics.

Johnson is still getting the difficulty levels of her routines back, and has just started training on floor exercise again.

"Shawn did a very nice effort," national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said. "She wasn't in the maximum shape in her preparation. She had to deal with that knee injury and she couldn't train 100 percent all these months leading up. Her attitude is excellent, her enthusiasm is great. If anything happens and she has to enter the team, I think she would be good asset.

"If that's not happening," Karolyi added, "I'm sure for next year she'll be a fantastic competitor for the Olympic team."

U.S. champion Jordyn Wieber and 2008 Olympian Alicia Sacramone are joined on the world team by Aly Raisman; McKayla Maroney; Anna Li; Gabrielle Douglas and Sabrina Vega. One of the seven will be made an alternate after the Americans have podium training Oct. 4. Worlds begin Oct. 7.

Johnson needed time away from gymnastics after Beijing, where she won four medals, including a gold on balance beam. She won "Dancing With the Stars," carried the Olympic torch before the Vancouver Games, and crisscrossed the country making commercial appearances.

Only 16 in Beijing, she talked about coming back for London. Would even drop by her old gym whenever she was home in Des Moines, Iowa. But elite gymnastics leaves little room for anything else, and Johnson was having too much fun being a "normal" teenager.

Then she blew out her knee.

Johnson tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in her left knee, as well as her hamstring, during a January 2010 ski trip to celebrate her 18th birthday. Her first thoughts after the accident were of gymnastics, making her realize she wasn't done with the sport.

"I didn't come back to gymnastics for any other reason than I missed it and I love it and I wanted to do it for myself. I wasn't doing it for anybody else," she said. "I made a lot of progress in the past year, and I still have a long way to go."

And as important as these worlds are, with the top eight teams booking spots for London, it is next year that really matters. The Americans are all but a lock to qualify regardless of who's wearing the red, white and blue leotards, and it doesn't make sense to rush Johnson's comeback.

Besides, she might actually get to do more at the Pan Am Games, Oct. 24-29 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Karolyi's priority for worlds was putting together a team that could put up big scores in the team finals, where three gymnasts compete on each event and all three scores count. Though Johnson could probably have helped out on uneven bars, where she was fourth at nationals, the Americans are so deep on vault, balance beam and floor that she might have spent most of her time as a spectator.

At Pan Ams, however, she's planning to compete on vault, balance beam and uneven bars.

"My goal is just to go home and perfect those," she said. "(Floor), if it's ready, by all means I'll do it."

And coming so close to worlds is sure to motivate Johnson that much more, so she doesn't come up short when it really matters."As of right now, not making that world team is what's best for Team USA," Johnson said. "Hopefully I'll be a part of that team next year."