TORONTO (Reuters) - American gymnast Rachel Gowey grew up with pictures of Shawn Johnson plastered across her bedroom walls and now finds herself trying to emulate her compatriot by reaching the top step of an Olympic podium.
The 17-year-old Gowey, back from a broken ankle suffered last August, showed plenty of poise competing on the biggest stage of her life at the July 10-26 Pan American Games where she won gold medals in the uneven bars and team competition.
“It was a great experience for her as far as competing on the big stage and handling all the pressure and dealing with injuries so I am very proud of her and what she’s done,” Gowey’s coach Liang Chow said on Wednesday.
“As long as she can keep herself healthy and focused, you never know what we can expect for (the 2016 Rio Olympics).
Gowey has firmly set her sights on competing in next year’s Olympics and in Chow she has someone who can help lead her there as he coached Johnson to four medals at the 2008 Beijing Games and Gabby Douglas to two golds at the 2012 London Games.
“He definitely knows what he’s doing. He knows when to peak you at the right time and he knows when to not push you if you are injured,” said Gowey.
“He understands that your body needs a break sometimes and he definitely understands that if you have a bad day you just have to move on and get ready for the future.”
Gowey had one of those bad days on Wednesday as she ended her Pan Am outing on a sour note after finishing last in the beam final where she fell off the apparatus twice.
But that performance did little to rattle Gowey, who moments after her routine was already talking about the Aug. 13-16 U.S. gymnastics championships in Indianapolis.
“I just hope I can come back and redeem myself on beam,” said Gowey. “I really want to show them what I can really do and show them that today was not my day and that I am not usually like this.”
Gowey trains at the same gym in West Des Moines, Iowa, where Johnson and Douglas once trained. Both Johnson and Douglas have trained with Gowey and the former has been instrumental.
“She was able to give me tips and corrections on a lot of different skills and give me techniques on how to stay focused and stay calm,” Gowey said of Johnson. “And she said if I have any questions I can just call her.”
But despite getting her first international gold medals under her belt, Gowey refuses to let talk of being the next great U.S. hope in the unforgiving sport of gymnastics distract her from her ultimate goals.
“I really just try to block out all the comparisons and do it for myself,” Gowey said on Wednesday about being compared to Johnson and Douglas. “Just trying to stay focused on what I am doing and not let the words influence me.”
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes