Johnson to Corvallis for her final meet

Senior Laura Johnson is competing in the NCAA Championships as an individual.

Emily Wickstrom

For Minnesota women’s gymnast Laura Johnson, there is not much left to prove.

The senior already has established herself as one of the Gophers’ all-time bests and as a consistent yet exceptional performer in Minnesota’s lineup the past four seasons, earning All-Big Ten honors each time.

That might be why Johnson seems so relaxed going into the final meet of her career.

After placing fifth in the all-around at the NCAA Regional on April 8, Johnson qualified for the NCAA Championships, to take place today through Saturday in Corvallis, Ore.

She is the only Minnesota gymnast competing at the event.

“I’m just to the point where I just want to go. I’m ready,” Johnson said. “All I can do is go out there and do what I’ve been training all year to do.”

One reason for Johnson’s confidence is that she has been there before.

At the 2005 National Championships she placed 24th in the all-around, giving her some much-needed experience for this year’s meet.

“Last year (Johnson) had never been to the NCAA Championships before so it was a new experience,” co-coach Jim Stephenson said. “She felt like she did really well with the talent level there and she found out that it’s not really a whole lot different than any other competition.”

Although Johnson said she has no specific goals of where she wants her score to fall, she still would like to be competing on Saturday.

The top eight gymnasts in every event qualify for Saturday’s event finals, also earning All-American status.

“More than (being an All-American) I really just want to go out and hit the best routines I know how,” Johnson said. “And if I don’t make finals I can’t be disappointed with myself.”

Stephenson said that Johnson’s solid national reputation, especially after being named this year’s Big Ten Gymnast of the Year, should help her.

“There are very few gymnasts in the country who are doing the level of difficulty that Laura has and there are a few, a very few, who are doing more than Laura,” Stephenson said. “She’s done her groundwork as far as laying out a political rug in front of her.”

But even if Johnson fails to qualify for the event finals, Stephenson said she already has accomplished enough to rank among Minnesota’s best, joining Marie Roethlisberger and MaryAnne Kelley – both former All-Americans.

Johnson is tied for second on the uneven bars (9.950) on the Gophers’ all-time scoring list, and also is tied for fourth all-time on vault (9.925).

She also holds three of Minnesota’s top-10 all-around scores, with her best (39.575) coming in the 2004 season.

“(Roethlisberger, Kelley and Johnson) are three kids that Minnesota’s had throughout the history of women’s gymnastics that really stand out as outstanding athletes who are capable of competing at the very top level,” Stephenson said.

Although it is difficult to see the NCAA Championships as just another meet, Johnson is trying to do just that, with her last performance as a Gopher likely bringing mixed emotions.

“It’s so hard because you identify yourself as a gymnast for so long,” Johnson said. “It will be hard to just be done and be over. But at the same time, I’m excited to move on to new aspects of my life and see what else is out there.”