Spotlight on Sydney Johnson-Scharpf! 

By Ashlee Buhler for Inside Gymnastics 

Sydney Johnson-Scharpf has been a fan favorite ever since she made her debut on the big stage at the Nastia Liukin Cup at the age of 12. She instantly caught the crowd’s attention with her sassy choreography and ability to sell her routine in a way that few junior elites know how. Sydney followed in the footsteps of her mother Brandy Johnson, who was a U.S. junior national champion and went on to represent the USA at the Olympics in 1988. Sydney found her own success in the elite world, placing sixth All-Around at the 2015 U.S. Junior National Championships and representing team USA at the City of Jesolo Trophy in 2016. In 2017, she competed in Iceland at the Reykjavik International Games where she placed third All-Around, second on bars, and first on vault and floor. 

Fast forward four years and Sydney is now a junior at the University of Florida. She has been a key contributor for the Gators, primarily on beam and floor, and has helped the team win the SEC regular season title in each of her years as a Gator. The journey has not always been smooth, but Sydney and her team know a lot about resiliency and have a lot left in store. 

We caught up with Sydney to talk about how her team has bounced back from the adversity and how her experience from her elite days has shaped her into the person she is today.

The team missed out on nationals your freshman year but was on a roll your sophomore year. Things were looking very promising heading into the postseason when everything was cancelled. How hard was that for you and the team and what was the mindset coming into this season? 

Last year we had worked so hard from the previous year (my freshman year) because we didn’t make it to nationals. That fire kept us going throughout the entire season… then it was cut short because of the pandemic. It was devastating for us. I remember when Jenny came out from the office on the day everything was shut down and we all started crying when we found out we wouldn’t be able to finish the season. It was especially hard knowing that the seniors wouldn’t even be able to finish their senior season. I think this season we have a whole different kind of fire in us. We have wanted to finish what we started for two years now, and I think that fire within us has grown every year. This year is also dedicated to our seniors who never got to finish their last season, so this one is for them.

What has it been like competing this season with all the COVID restrictions? What has been the biggest challenge?  

Competing during a pandemic has been such a different experience. It’s so weird to not have that many fans in the stands but the cardboard cutouts made it a little funnier and more entertaining to look up from the competition floor. Wearing masks has become second nature to us now, so that hasn’t been much of an issue, but staying six feet apart has been hard, especially with a team that is so close. We used to all huddle up and stand by each other when we were cheering on teammates and give big hugs and high fives, but now we have to be spread out and cheer from a distance. It was hard in the beginning, but I think as season has gone on, it’s become more normal, and we’ve worked around it so it’s not uncomfortable anymore.

You became an elite gymnast from a young age and went on to become a U.S. National Team member. How much do you think your experience from those days has helped you to thrive at Florida? 

Becoming an elite at the age of 12 and going on to be a member of both the U.S. Junior National Team in 2015 and U.S. Senior National Team in 2016 had a huge impact on my college career. I learned so many crucial life lessons during my elite days that really do help me in my training and day to day life here at Florida. I learned the importance of mental toughness and believing in myself through different experiences in competition and during training camps. I learned to push myself on the hard days and days that I didn’t feel my best, including 2017 P&G Championships when I competed with pneumonia and bronchitis. Experiences like those, where I learned that I could do so much more than I truly thought I could, really shaped the athlete I am today.

You were coached by your mom, a 1988 Olympian. What was it like growing up in the sport with her by your side? 

Growing up with my mom as my coach was the best and hardest part of my career before college. It was amazing to have a coach that knew how to push me, when to stop, and had my best interest in mind at all times. It was also the hardest because it was sometimes hard to draw that line between coach and mom, but overall, I think we did a good job at separating it. Now that she’s not my coach anymore, she’s still my biggest supporter. She’s my best friend and I have been so so grateful to have her by my side in every step of my gymnastics career.

You have become known for your well-choreographed floor routines and ability to perform. Out of all the routines you’ve had, from your elite days until now, what routine is your favorite? 

I have loved every single one of my floor routines, from the time I got my first floor routine in Prep Op, to the one I choreographed myself this year. Every year when I get a new routine, it becomes my favorite! I would have to say that this year’s routine is so far my all-time favorite. It was so fun to choreograph and become this character that I envisioned when listening to the music.

Fans have enjoyed the behind the scenes look at your life, whether it be on YouTube or through your meet day vlogs or “Get Ready With Me” videos on Instagram. What is your main motivation with being so open about your life? 

My main motivation for being so open about my life on my social media is because I hope that I can inspire people through my life experiences. Since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to be someone for people to look up to and I love to help people in any way I can.

What is your dream skill to compete? 

My dream skill to compete again would be my piked double Arabian on floor!

What has been a favorite memory from your career so far? 

My favorite memory so far, individually, would be competing beam for the first time last year, at the home meet versus LSU, and getting a 9.925. As a team, I would say my favorite memory was becoming SEC Regular Season Champions for the third year in a row.

What is the best piece of advice you can give to young gymnasts who want to follow in your footsteps? 

My best piece of advice for young gymnasts is to always dream big and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Believe in yourself, work hard, never give up, and do it for you. You can do anything you set your mind on!

Photo credit: Courtney Culbreath & Susan Erdelyi; Grace Chiu

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