Shawn Johnson stands on the podium after winning gold at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 on Aug. 19, 2008 in Beijing.
From the thrilling Opening Ceremony to Michael Phelps’ iconic eight gold medals, the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 were truly unforgettable. Relive the 10-year anniversary of the Games through Aug. 24 as TeamUSA.org recaps the daily highlights from Beijing. Here’s a look at Team USA's performance on Day 11, Aug. 19, 2008.
Shawn Johnson, by any objective definition, had already secured a successful Olympic Games Beijing 2008. The American gymnast had won silver medals in the team competition, all-around and floor exercise, becoming one of just six U.S. women to win that many gymnastics medals in a single Games.
But having arrived in Beijing as the defending world champion and America’s sweetheart, the 4-foot-11 gymnast from West Des Moines, Iowa, was still seeking the one medal she sought most: gold.
Finally, on the last day of gymnastics competition in Beijing, she got it.
Johnson held off teammate Nastia Liukin to win the women’s balance beam final, scoring 16.225 to Liukin’s 16.025.
“This gold means more than anything to me,” Johnson said. “Beam is my favorite event, and I've worked hardest on this for a long time. It's the perfect ending to my Olympic experience.”
The Day 11 competition was a fitting ending to Team USA’s successful run in gymnastics. With her balance beam silver medal, Liukin ended the Games with five medals, tying Mary Lou Retton (1984) and Shannon Miller (1992) for the most medals by a U.S. gymnast in a single Games. Meanwhile, Jonathan Horton picked up a silver medal in a dramatic display on the high bar.
Horton, who had led the U.S. men to a surprise team bronze medal one week earlier, knew his routine wasn’t good enough to medal, so before the competition he decided to upgrade.
“My coach said, ‘You’re nuts, you could go out there on live TV and the world could watch you fall on your face if you try this,’” Horton told TeamUSA.org in 2012. “I was like, ‘Yeah, well, go big or go home, right?’”
The risk paid off, and with his medal Team USA ended the Beijing Games with 10 gymnastics medals, marking the most for a U.S. gymnastics team since winning 16 at the 1984 Games.
American sailor Anna Tunnicliffe also won a gold medal on Day 11, despite having to circle back and restart early in the Laser Radial medal race. Falling back to ninth in a 10-boat race, Tunnicliffe worked her way back to second, which was good enough to secure the gold medal.
Another compelling story played out at the wrestling venue, where Henry Cejudo, the son of undocumented Mexican immigrants, rallied to win the men’s 55 kg. freestyle division. Rising from poverty in Arizona, Cejudo at age 21 became the youngest U.S. wrestling gold medalist.
And Americans weren’t done winning gold medals, as Dawn Harper won the women’s 100-meter hurdles in a personal best time of 12.54 seconds. In a dramatic scene, teamate Lolo Jones, the pre-race favorite, clipped her leg on the ninth hurdle and ended up seventh.
Sanya Richards won Team USA’s seventh medal — and second track medal — of the day, taking second in the women’s 400.
As the team events raced toward the medal rounds, U.S. women thrived in different stages of playoff rounds, too.
The basketball team ran away with a quarterfinal match up against South Korea, while volleyball outlasted Italy in their respective quarterfinals. And in semifinal action, water polo beat Australia while the beach volleyball team of Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor swept a Brazilian team to move on to their respective gold-medal games.
Chrös McDougall covered the 2008 Games for the Olympic News Service. He has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.