Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin Are Humbled Watching Olympic Gymnasts Compete in Rio: 'I'm Glad We're Retired!'
"The girls are throwing skills that the men aren't even doing and it's humbling to watch," Shawn Johnson tells PEOPLE
The besties tell PEOPLE their sport has dramatically increased in difficulty since they competed in the 2008 Games, respectively, and admit it’s a relief to be watching rather than competing.
“We’re like, ‘thank goodness we’re done competing!’ ” says Liukin, the 2008 Olympic individual all-around champion. “The difficulty has increased and we both obviously were able to achieve everything we’ve wanted to and come away from the sport gold medalists.”
The 26-year-old NBC analyst adds, “But we’re happy to be on the other side watching!”
Johnson – the 2008 Olympic balance beam gold medalist, and all-around, floor exercise and team silver medalist – says gymnastics is “constantly evolving.”
“The girls are throwing skills that the men aren’t even doing and it’s humbling to watch,” Johnson, a Yahoo Sports Olympic analyst, tells PEOPLE. “I think to myself, ‘I could never be doing what they just did and I’m glad we’re retired!’ It’s enjoyable to watch.”
The former gymnasts – who were treated to a spa day on behalf of the Grand Hyatt Rio – can’t wait to see some of their Team USA favorites compete.
“My favorite is Laurie Hernandez and her floor routine,” says Johnson, 24. “It’s such a crowd-pleasing piece.”
Liukin explains that she is “very close” to all the women on the team – but has a soft spot for Madison Kocian.
“I have been training her since she was three at my parents’ gym in Texas, so I’ve literally watched her grow up,” she says. “I’ve loved watching her climb through the rankings.”
And of course, there’s Simone Biles – nicknamed the “Michael Jordan of gymnastics.”
“Her floor routine, she does skills for her last tumbling pass – a full twisting double back, I could never do that!” says Liukin. “Shawn can do it, but it’s just the way [Simone] performs it with such ease.”
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“It’s crazy to see what they’re doing now,” says Johnson.
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And although Liukin and Johnson agree the sport has lost some of its “finesse” and “artistry,” they say Team USA’s power and swiftness is enchanting.
“Gymnastics has always been a sport that’s so impressive and I think that’s just going to keep getting even more impressive as skill difficulty level increases,” explains Liukin. “And the way these women do them with such ease.”
“But that doesn’t mean the judging changes!” adds Johnson. “As we do more and more difficulty, the rulebook and code of points evolves.”