Some might call Shawn Johnson’s performance at the Pan American Games in Mexico this past weekend nothing to get excited about.  Watching the reigning Olympic balance beam champion fall twice from the event on which she rarely even wavered three years ago was a bit anticlimactic, and her vault in Mexico – although very good – isn’t difficult enough to land her a spot on the best vaulting team on the planet.


But there was another event Shawn competed in Mexico that raised a few unexpected eyebrows – uneven bars.  Johnson has always been known for being clean and consistent on bars, but never for having a high start value.  Aside from her trademark double twisting double layout dismount – a skill she has not yet reintroduced during her comeback this year – she’s never done much in the way of difficulty on this event.  And since bars has been the main area the U.S. has needed to strengthen in order to keep pace with the Chinese and Russians, Johnson’s clean but mediocre routine she competed at the nationals this summer hardly made her Olympic chances seem too convincing.


That may be changing.  Most of us did a bit of a “double take” when we saw two new elements in Johnson’s bar routine in Mexico that are not only valuable – they’re extremely clever.  In fact, they’re both used by newly crowned world all-around champion Jorydn Wieber, who has a strikingly similar style to Shawn Johnson and has also had to find some unconventional ways to get her start value on this event up to par with her three other stunning routines.  The two skills – a Weiler kip and a Weiler kip pirouette – have served Jordyn quite well, as her high 14’s to low 15’s on bars not only put her in the American team finals lineup in Tokyo, but also in the world event finals, where she placed 4th.  Not bad for a gymnast who has just one major release move, no complicated invert work, and what most would consider to be a very “tight” swing.


Shawn Johnson’s 2011 Bars Difficulty Scores:


Visa Championships (no Weiler kips): 5.5

Pan American Games (with Weiler kips): 6.0

* Note she only received 5.9 both days at Pan Ams due to losing a connection tenth for hesitating on one of her Weiler kips each day.



Shawn Johnson Bars 2011 Visa Championships Day 1



Shawn Johnson Bars 2011 Pan American Games Event Finals




The two Weiler kip skills are not only both “D” skills, but they also give valuable connection points – between the two Weiler kips as well as into the Gienger.


Also note that Shawn will need to keep her legs together from now on to get “D” credit for these skills, as the straddled versions she showed in Mexico will be downgraded to “C” skills.


So she’s already got five tenths from these two skills…what else can Shawn upgrade in this routine?  Well the most obvious place would be the dismount, where’s she’s currently doing one less twist than she competed in Beijing.  It’s looking more and more like she could add that second twist back in, and if she did, she’d quickly add two more tenths to her D-score.  Another easy place would be to change her toe-on shoot to the high bar into a stalder shoot to the high bar, which would give her another tenth in connection.  And finally, it would be very realistic for her to add a free hip full pirouette before the overshoot and do the toe-on full pirouette immediately out of it.  All this would give her a whopping 6.5 start value – only two tenths less than the highest bars D-score shown by anyone at the worlds in Tokyo.


Shawn isn’t quite at that point yet, but the fact that it’s easy to envision sure makes her comeback quite a bit more interesting.  If Shawn plays her cards just right and continues to train this “smart,” she just might be able to sneak in and grab one of those five spots on the Olympic team next summer.


And if she does, she’ll want to make sure she brings her grips with her on the plane to London.