Image: Shawn Johnson
Kevin Sanders  /  AP
Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson shows off her medals at her welcome home ceremony at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Aug. 26.
Associated Press Sports
updated 8/26/2008 10:04:56 PM ET 2008-08-27T02:04:56

The story, as told by Shawn Johnson, goes like this: She was headed to David Letterman's show Monday from Chicago when the airline reported a problem.

Apparently, the pilot had an incident when he heard Johnson was on his plane.

"I guess he just like freaked out and hit his head,'' Johnson said Tuesday to a crowd of thousands in her first appearance back to her hometown. "They had to take him to the hospital for stitches.''

The hysteria continued Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Arena, where the gold-medal winning gymnast was feted with a reception worthy of a rock star.

Johnson, 16, won one gold and three silver medals at the Olympics. Iowa has seen Johnson in several iterations: her ever-present grin at the Beijing Olympics, a bronze sculpture in the Iowa Hall of Fame, and an all-butter representation kept in a cooler at the Iowa State Fair.

The rest of the nation has, too, as Johnson has garnered endorsements with major corporations like Coca-Cola, Adidas, McDonald's and Hy-Vee. She has also appeared in television ads and on Coke cans, ice cream boxes and orange juice containers.

Though Johnson seems acclimated to the spotlight, her father Doug Johnson seemed less so.

Asked about the experience in Beijing, he said "It's been really weird,'' and compared the Chinese media to the American paparazzi.

The crowd stood and cheered for Johnson's parents. It gave a standing ovation to her two coaches and roared at a replay screen showing Johnson's highlights.

And when the 4-foot-9-inch gymnast took the stage it was pandemonium.

Babies were bounced, little girls screamed and young men near the rafters held up signs proposing marriage.

Johnson was asked repeatedly about her prospects for the 2012 London Olympics. Her coach Liang Chow said she will take some time off before considering her next step.

"We would like more Olympics,'' Chow said.

Johnson is scheduled to begin a 40-city gymnastics tour next week.

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