Fresh off earning a gold medal at the Beijing Summer Olympics, gymnast Shawn Johnson could win two more awards in the near future. Following Monday night’s Dancing With the Stars premiere, the 17-year-old is a front-runner for the season 8 mirror ball trophy.
“It’s like a girl’s dream come true,” says Johnson of the Dancing experience. The Des Moines, Iowa, native danced an elegant waltz with partner Mark Ballas that received high marks from the judges (23 out of 30 points). “I was shaking, I was starting to forget the dance,” she tells PEOPLE. “Then, we went out on the floor and those things went away and I had a great time.”
Taking a break from gymnastics, Johnson is still getting accolades for her sportsmanship. She learned Tuesday that she was nominated for the sports world’s Oscar-equivalent — the prestigious Sullivan Award, which goes to outstanding amateur athletes who also demonstrate strong moral character.
Past recipients include Peyton Manning, Bruce Jenner and Michelle Kwan. Johnson is currently the leading online vote-getter for the award, which will be announced on April 15 in New York City.
“It’s such an honor and it’s so exciting,” Johnson says, noting that while she’s currently stepped away from her gymnastics training, she may have the 2012 London Olympics in her sights.
“I would love to go back and compete in London. Beijing was the experience of a lifetime but it would be an honor to go back,” she says.
First things first: Johnson is focused on learning next week’s dance with Ballas — the salsa.
“It’s scary. The waltz was a challenge because of having to be romantic and stuff but now the salsa is even harder,” she says. “I’ve never shaken my hips before. It’s hard to let myself go.” — Monica RizzoCraig Sjodin/ABC