Suni Lee Wins the All-Around Olympic Gold Medal
TOKYO – For years Sunisa Lee, a teenage girl from Minnesota who became the Olympic all-around gymnastics champion on Thursday night, didn’t train just for herself.
Lee, a Hmong American, went to the gym every day for all the first generation Americans who wanted to be successful when their parents came to the United States with nothing. And she trained through grueling practices and painful injuries for her father, John, who suffered a spinal cord injury in 2019 and now uses a wheelchair.
Lee, 18, entered the Olympics with the goal of winning a gold medal for her father, who is her biggest fan, and for all the Hmong Americans she considers invisible in the United States. But she had publicly stated that her goal was to win silver in the all-around because her teammate Simone Biles, the four-time Olympic medalist, was seen as a lock to win that title.
But after a lifetime of chasing Biles in the all-around because Biles hasn’t lost that big-name event since 2013, Lee used his shot to make it to Tokyo. Biles, considered the best gymnast of all time, withdrew from the team event and all-around due to mental stress, leaving Lee in a position to win it all.
“I didn’t even think I would ever get here,” Lee said. “I don’t even feel like I’m in real life.”
On Thursday, Lee hit routine after routine, often as if she was in practice, not the most important competition of her life. She even managed the floor exercise on her last rotation of the night, with new choreography and elements that had been changed by her trainer, Jess Graba, that morning. They had decided to retire her fourth tumbling pass because her left ankle, which she fractured last year, did not fully heal, resulting in bad landings – and big deductions – for this. last pass.
The change worked. Lee had his best floor exercise score of these Olympics.
Rebeca Andrade of Brazil won silver and Angelina Melnikova of Russia won bronze.
Graba, Lee’s coach since she was in elementary school, knew she could keep up with her new routine – and the other routines too. From the start, he believed that she was a special athlete, who had “a lot of courage” and who was not afraid of anything. He and his wife, Lee’s other coach, Alison Lim, worked closely to bring Lee to the top of the sport, but also to keep the sport fun.
Winning, of course, was also important. Graba said he and Lee often discussed winning Olympic gold, even during Biles’ day, because he knew she had the potential to do it under the right circumstances. Even though Biles had competed in Tokyo, he said, he believed Lee could be close to beating her.
“Too much of the conversation has centered on one person,” Graba said, adding that he was thrilled the world had the chance to see Lee at his best and appreciate him, like him and his wife. have been doing so for over a decade. . “I thought she was this good all the time. I feel better that everyone can see it. She was finally able to show it.
Lee’s gold in the all-around, which determines the best gymnast in the overall standings, came just two days after she rallied her teammates to win silver in the team final. Biles retired from the team event after competing in the jump, the first of four events. In the next event, the uneven bars, Lee decided to perform her toughest bar routine – the most difficult in the world – instead of the easiest she had expected because she knew the team would need every tenth of a point to win a medal. His 15.4 points on bars was the highest score of the night.
Lee later participated in the floor exercise after not practicing his floor routine for two days because his trainer wanted to spare his ankle. She was not initially selected to perform the floor exercise in the team final, as each country only chooses three of their four gymnasts to compete on each apparatus. With Biles out, however, Lee had little choice.
In the all-around, Lee brought the same determination to stand on the podium. And in the end, she got to the top.
Before the medal ceremony, she faced her family, who had watched the competition from a large hall near her home in St. Paul. A huge contingent of family and friends, including many from the American Hmong community, had joined them. She first spoke to her father saying, “I did it! “
They both cried.
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