18-year-old Sunisa “Suni” Lee from Minnesota made her country and the Hmong community proud by winning gold at the women’s gymnastics individual all-around competition in the Tokyo Olympics.
Suni’s win marks the fifth consecutive time that America has won the title. In 2004, Carly Patterson won the gold medal for the United States, starting the winning streak. It was followed by a 2008 win by Nastia Liukin, Gabby Douglas in 2012, and Simone Biles in 2016. Besides these five wins, the only other time an American had won a gold medal in the competition was in 1984.
At the competition, Suni totaled 57.433 to win her gold medal. She was followed by Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade who clinched silver with 57.298 points. Angelina Melnikova, from the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), earned bronze with 57.199 points. Suni is the first Hmong-American gymnast to win the title.
“It feels super crazy, I definitely didn’t think I would be here in this moment with a gold medal… I haven’t really let it sink in yet, because I feel like it’s not real life,” Lee said in a statement.
The U.S. women’s team was under a lot of pressure following the exit of its top performer, Simone Biles. Biles was expected to repeat as a gold medalist in the event. Hailed as one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, Biles pulled out of the tournament citing mental health issues.
At the competition, both the Brazilian and ROC candidates closely competed with Suni. Until the final scores flashed confirming her win, Lee was unsure of her placement.
As the scores were announced, members from Team USA jumped in joy, including Biles. Suni embraced her coach Jess Graba with eyes full of tears.
“It was really scary, I knew that I did the best routine that I could, so waiting there was probably the scariest moment… that’s why I hate the waiting game,” Suni said.
In an earlier interview with Today, Suni’s father said that the entire family was proud of his daughter. He built a beam in the backyard to help Suni train since the family could not afford to buy a real beam.
“I talk to her, I motivate her… But the real secret is: I think it’s her. I think she’s pretty natural,” Suni’s father said.
Her family and supporters were watching the event live back home in Minnesota. When Suni won the gold, they also went wild with joy.