The new new Mary Lou

Since 2005, when videos of her competing at TOPS national tournaments began circulating the internet, Shawn Johnson has been touted as the next big thing in women’s gymnastics.

Last weekend at the U.S. Nationals in San Jose, the 4’9″ Johnson proved that the word next can be removed from that moniker.

Call her that, call her the new new Mary Lou (a title that has been bestowed on everyone from Kristie Phillips to Kim Zmeskal to Carly Patterson), call her dominant. All are true — for the moment. Whether she lives up to all that is still to be seen, but at present, the facts speak for themselves.

With her runaway victory at the U.S. championships, Shawn Johnson has established herself as one of the best in the world.

Not only did Johnson throw the most difficult skills at Nationals, she did so flawlessly. True, some of the flexibility, form and execution aren’t all there, but Johnson’s not beyond help the way a few U.S. elites seem to be. It should be noted that reigning world champion Vanessa Ferrari also has moments where she loses some of her toepoint or bends her legs slightly.

It was pretty clear from the get-go in San Jose that Johnson would be near the top of the scoreboard the whole way through, but her margin of victory over seasoned competitors like the not-completely-healthy Nastia Liukin and Jana Bieger must have surpassed even the gymnastics world’s wildest expectations.

Next up are the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, where Johnson, much like Patterson in 2003, finds herself the newcomer and favorite at the same time. Expect her to lead the team by example. Better training for next summer’s Olympics in Beijing — her coach’s hometown — couldn’t be had anywhere else.

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