Gymnast Johnson Realizes Olympic Dream
By Jeff Navin // April 4, 2012
SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Unlike many United States Olympic athletes who were affected by the boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, Indialantic native Kathy Johnson was patient enough to realize that there would be a second chance in 1984.
Johnson, a possible nominee for enshrinement in the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame in May, defied the odds by competing for the United States in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles just a month before she turned 25. That’s usually an age where most women’s gymnasts have retired in a sport that might be more aptly named girls gymnastics.
Johnson won a bronze medal on the Balance Beam and a silver medal in the Team competition for the United States. Prior to the 1984 Summer Olympics, the U.S. women’s team had only earned one medal in gymnastics. That was a bronze medal in 1948 in the Team competition.
The current format for individuals has been in effect since the 1952 Summer Games in Helsinki.
Johnson’s teammates on the U.S. women’s team in 1984 that she captained were: Mary Lou Retton, Julianne McNamara, Michelle Duserre, Tracee Talavera and Pamela Black.
Ecaterina Szabo and Simona Pauca, both of Romania, shared the gold medal on the Balance Beam. Romania also won the Team competition.
Retton was the gold medalist in the All-Around. She added a silver medal in the Vault and bronze medals on the Uneven Bars and in the Floor Exercise.
McNamara shared the gold medal with China’s Ma Yanhong on the Uneven Bars. She also earned a silver medal in the Floor Exercise.
Johnson did not begin training in gymnastics until she was 12. At the age of 15, she made the difficult decision to leave her Indialantic home to train in Atlanta under coach Fred Martinez.
Johnson’s father worked for NASA and her mother stayed at home to watch Johnson and her four brothers. While in Atlanta, she became friends with Tom Cook and Bunny Cook, who later would help her as both coaches and in a confidant role when she was trying to overcome several injuries, the Olympic boycott and bulimia.
The 5-foot-0 1/4-inch Johnson weighed between 94 and 98 pounds during her competitive career.
In 1975, Johnson placed 42nd in the 1975 AAU National Championships.
In 1976, Johnson might have had a chance to make the U.S. Olympic team if the selection process were similar to that of today. Back then, it was a double-meet trial spanning two days.
Johnson had the highest optional score, but she also had the lowest compulsory score as she finished 12th in the Olympic Trials.
Johnson won the 1977 American Cup and earned a silver medal in the All-Around at the NHK Cup in Japan. She won a gold medal in the Floor Exercise and a silver medal in the All-Around in the U.S. Nationals.
In 1978, Johnson tied Emilia Eberle of Romania for a bronze medal in the Floor Exercise at the World Championships in Strasbourg. She also placed eighth in the All-Around.
Johnson won the All-Around title in the U.S. Nationals in 1978 and she repeated as the champion in the Floor Exercise.
n the 1984 Summer Olympics, Johnson and McNamara became the first American women’s gymnasts to earn medals in both a World Chammpionships and an Olympic Games. McNamara, who won a bronze medal on the Uneven Bars in the 1981 World Championships, beat Johnson out by one day for the honor when she won her gold medal on the Uneven Bars before Johnson won her medal on the Balance Beam.
From 1977 to 1979, Johnson competed for Centenary College in Shreveport, La. She was a two-time All-America and the AIAW champion in 1978 and 1979.
Johnson was named the U.S. team captain after placing second in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1980.
In 1983, Johnson was 11th in the All-Around in the World Championships. She also reached the finals of the Floor Exercise.
After the 1984 Olympics, Johnson retired and became a sports commentator for ABC and ESPN during gymnastics coverage.
Johnson has worked with health groups to help women struggling with bulimia. Johnson, who is a motivational speaker, also has served on several advisory boards. She was an advisor for the movie “Little Girls in Pretty Boxes,” which dealt with some of the problems in the sport.
Johnson, who is married to actor Brian Patrick Clarke, was born on Sept. 13, 1959. The couple has one son, Sean, and an older son, Cary, from Clarke’s earlier marriage.