With Biles Out, Sunisa Lee Seizes the Moment and Captures Gold
“I just had to go out there and have the best competition of my life,” she said.
Lee hit routine after routine, managing to avoid a potential fall on the balance beam during a one-footed turn and sometimes breathing so hard between exercises that onlookers could see his chest rise and fall. But at the end of the night, Lee pulled off a floor exercise with new choreography and elements that had been altered that morning by his coaches, Jess Graba and Alison Lim. They had decided to eliminate Lee’s fourth tumbling pass because her left ankle had not fully healed, which resulted in poor landings when she was tired.
The change worked. Lee had her best floor exercise score of the Olympics and she won the gold medal.
Rebeca Andrade of Brazil took silver and Angelina Melnikova of Russia won bronze.
Graba and Lim, who are married, have been training Lee since she was in elementary school, and they knew she could master her new routine – and the others too. From the start, Graba believed that Lee was a special athlete, with “a lot of courage” and natural talent, and that she was fearless. His goal was to perfect his gymnastic skills while keeping the pleasure of the sport.
“A gold medal is wonderful and it’s great, ”said Graba. “But I really want her to be well-rounded, happy, to enjoy life and to be well prepared for the rest. And that was my goal.”
Winning, of course, was also important. Lee and his coaches would often discuss winning the Olympic gold, even in Biles’ day, because they all knew Lee had the potential to do it. Even though Biles had competed in Tokyo, Graba said, he believed Lee could be close to beating her.
“I think for the quality of Simone, too much of the conversation has been about one person,” he said. “And a lot of these girls have these amazing qualities that a lot of people just don’t know. And I’m glad we got to show it. “
Graba added: “I’ve been telling her for four years, ‘We want to be so close to Simone, if she’s wrong, you win. “”
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