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Shawn Johnson: 'Going to London is bittersweet'

Ryan Towe Photography

Gold-winning gymnast and TODAY.com special correspondent Shawn Johnson reflects on attending her first Olympic Games since retiring in June. 

I couldn't be more excited to be in London covering the Olympics. Still, attending my first Opening Ceremony in London as a non-athlete is bittersweet. Here's what happens when you retire from Olympic competition: The first week is awful. It’s like hitting a brick wall. Every decision you’ve ever made pretty much your entire life has been based on your sport and getting to the Olympics: what you eat, what you drink, when you go to sleep. It’s everything. And when you no longer have that, you kind of feel lost.

Within a few weeks, you start thinking about what you want to do and where you want to go. You kind of get separation anxiety, and wonder what you’re going to end up doing. You start missing it.

But for me, opportunities started coming right off the bat, which made the transition a lot easier. In London, I'm going to be the first-ever TODAY.com special correspondent. That means I'll be blogging for TODAY in London, doing behind-the-scenes reporting and sharing my unique perspective on the Games.

It's a good thing I'll be busy, because it's going go be hard sitting in the stands! I'm still the kind of person that wants to be active and down there competing. 

I think it’s going to be the little things that’ll get to me the most.

Wearing a credential that says "media" instead of "athlete," for example. Trying to get into the Olympic village, and having to get a guest pass. I'll be like, "No, I’m an athlete!" and they'll say, "No, you were." I’ll forever be an athlete. But it’s kind of having that dreaded word “former” or “ex” before my name that makes me cringe. I never thought that day was going to come.

One thing that's been fun: Packing. I'm bringing nice clothes, like heels for events, and running shoes. As a competitor, I wouldn’t have packed any of that — just leotards, tennis shoes and warm-ups. Street clothes take up a lot more room! A leotard takes up nothing, and we weren't allowed to bring more than one bag anyway. Now, I've got two: one for my shoes and one for my clothes. 

For the first time ever, I'll be able to check out other events that we weren’t allowed to watch when we were competing. I'll be at opening and closing ceremonies, in the audience, watching the gymnastics, of course, and I’ve got tickets to the gold medal basketball game and women’s volleyball.

This will also be my first time in London! I want to see the London Eye, and get a Buckingham palace guard to smile. I’m kind of a nerd that way; I love visiting touristy sites. Any free minute I get, I’m going to be walking around.

And if I meet Will and Kate, I'm going to ask: Where's her favorite place to shop? And what's the queen like? Is she really intense? 

But most of all, I'm going to be watching all of my Olympian friends — even if it's just on TV — and I'll be the one cheering the loudest.

Tell me: What do you want to know about the Olympics? Ask me your questions in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them! 

More: Gold star: Medalist Shawn Johnson joins TODAY.com Olympic team 
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