Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson narrowly beat dashing French actor Gilles Marini on ABC'S "Dancing With the Stars" finale Tuesday night. The 17-year-old Johnson, the show's youngest-ever competitor, claimed the surprise win is just as exciting as the Olympics.
"This is my new gold medal," a breathless Johnson said backstage. "It's made me the happiest person ever and changed my life."
Johnson's jaw dropped when she and her pro partner, Mark Ballas, were named the season eight champions, edging out Marini, the front-runner and judges' favorite, by less than 1 percent of the viewers' votes. The stud best known for his steamy scenes in "Sex and the City: The Movie" was a gentleman after his defeat.
"I'm so happy for Shawn and Mark," he said as the confetti flew. "They worked so hard. We love them so much."
Johnson said on "GMA" today the most nerve wracking part of the evening was just waiting for the results to be announced.
"We worked so hard," Johnson said.
It was Johnson's dynamo gymnastics-infused performance Monday night that helped propel her toward victory.
She began the dance in a costumed mask and had a quick change very early into the routinie.
"The scariest part for me was getting the clothes off. I didn't think I'd get them off in time," she said.
And while Johnson may have been unsure of where she'd end up at the end of the season, her partner always had faith in her abilities.
"I saw potential in her right away," Ballas said on "GMA" today. "I was honored to be her partner."
Johnson and Marini were tied for first place after "The Bachelor" reality star Melissa Rycroft finished third.
Earlier in the finale, the judges praised Johnson's "athlete's ethos," with Carrie Ann Inaba offering what turned out to be a premonition.
"I think that we all underestimated you," Inaba said. "In the last three weeks you've just powered your way right to the top."
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Johnson triumphed even after suffering a personal scare in March. Robert O'Ryan, 34, remains in custody on a felony stalking charge after allegedly driving from Florida to Hollywood in a car stocked with guns, duct tape and love letters addressed to Johnson.
Ballas choked up discussing his partner's character after Tuesday's show.
"This is the first thing she's done after dedicating 16 years of her life to gymnastics and taking our country to the Olympics," he said. "To be the first person to do something with her after all that is truly an honor."
Johnson credited Ballas with giving her the confidence to transition from the balance beam to the ballroom. She claims she was scared she'd make a fool of herself when the competition began 11 weeks ago.
"I guess I proved myself wrong," Johnson said. "I have a trophy to show that."
It's the second mirrorball trophy for Ballas and the second time he's won with an Olympic gold medalist as a partner. He took the title with figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi in season six.
While Johnson says she is unsure of whether or not she'll be competing in the 2012 Olympic Games, she says she hopes to keep dancing.
"I don't know where I'm really going to cha cha," she said backstage. "But hopefully I can find a place."