Shawn Johnson, 16, struck gold in the balance beam Tuesday in Beijing. After collecting three silver medals earlier in the games, the West Des Moines, Iowa gymnast showed her best in the final women's competition event.
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Nastia Liukin of the U.S. edged teammate Shawn Johnson for the gold medal in women's all-around gymnastics on Friday in Beijing. Yang Yilin of China won the bronze. In a showdown of the world's two best gymnasts, Liukin finished with 63.325 points -- six-tenths ahead of Johnson, who is the reigning world champion. Johnson had bested Liukin at the U.S. championships and Olympic trials.
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The 16-year old Johnson later said, "I don't know what more I could have done. I gave my heart and soul."
4 of 17Bob Rosato/SI
"I just knew that I had to give the routine of my life," Johnson said. "I was pretty far behind, but I couldn't control that. I gave a great meet today."
5 of 17Al Tielemans/SI
Liukin gets her grace from her mother Anna, who was a rhythmic gymnastics world champion, and her father: four-time Olympic medalist Valeri Liukin.
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Liukin's performance was all the more remarkable because she had been battling an ankle injury for much of the past two years. "Injuries made me who I am today," she said. "I'm stronger, tougher."
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While her rival is best described as a polished performer with emotional flair, Johnson is an electrifying acrobat.
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After finding herself in 10th place, Liukin rallied in two of her best events (scoring 16.650 on bars and 16.125 on beam) to take the lead going into floor exercise.
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Liukin's strong finish would set up a dramatic end to the event, as she and Johnson would be the final two performers with the gold at stake.
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Though she stood to deny her teammate gymnastics' highest honor, the energetic Johnson was inspired by the vocal support she received during her routines from Nastia and her father.
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"Don't try to do anything better than you know how to do," Nastia was told by her father before the event. "Just do your routine."
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Johnson described the feeling of her performance as "my passion. It's like candy for me...a dream come true. I couldn't be happier or prouder of myself. I'd give anything to feel that again. If I can in 2012, I'll be there no matter what."
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Liukin made four perfectly executed tumbling passes and earned a 15.525 in the floor exercise, taking what proved to be an insurmountable lead.
14 of 17Bob Rosato/SI
Johnson, the final competitor, completed her performance as Liukin anxiously paced while clapping for her teammate.
15 of 17Peter Read Miller/SI
The pair exchanged a warm, heartfelt hug after the final scores were announced. "I'm very proud of Nastia," Johnson said. "She deserves it. Nastia and I have pushed each other so much, we've become better gymnasts because of each other."
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Though competing intensely for the same goal, Johnson (left) and Liukin are good friends and also roommates in Beijing.
17 of 17Bob Rosato/SI
Liukin now has a gold medal to go with the two her father won as a member of the Soviet Olympic team of 1988.
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