She missed her prom earlier this month, but for gymnast Shawn Johnson winning Dancing with the Stars more than makes up for it. The 17-year-old Olympic gold medalist and her partner Mark Ballas captured the season 8 crown Tuesday night, upsetting actor Gilles Marini in what was the closest finale in DWTS history.
“This means the world to me,” a still-incredulous Johnson said minutes after taking possession of Dancing’s mirror-ball trophy. “We worked so hard just to make it to the finals. This is the best.”
Not much separated Johnson and Marini — less than 1% — the smallest margin between a winner and loser in Dancing‘s eight seasons. But the deciding factor in Johnson winning out over Marini may well have been the freestyle routine she and Ballas performed Monday night, judge Bruno Tonioli tells PEOPLE.
“Shawn’s freestyle was the best of all of them. With cha cha cha, tango, waltz — they all have a structure. But in the freestyle anything goes and you may or may not get it right. Shawn and Mark got it right. The other two Marini and Melissa Rycroft did not get it right.” Rycroft and her partner Tony Dovolani took third place.
And victory the second time around is all the more sweet for pro Ballas, who won in season 6 with Olympic ice skater Kristi Yamaguchi. Says Ballas, “The first trophy was amazing, but this one we owe to the fans because they really kept us here week after week, and we are so grateful for that.” –Monica Rizzo
Tell us: Are you shocked Shawn upset front-runner Gilles?
MORE: Shawn Johnson’s Dancing Victory: How She Did ItCraig Sjodin/ABC