TOKYO — Following Simone Biles’ withdrawal from Thursday’s individual all-around final at the Tokyo Olympics, all eyes were on teammate Sunisa Lee, who turned in stellar performances on all four apparatuses to win the gold medal.
Here are five things you need to know about Lee, 18, of Minnesota:
1. She’s the first Hmong American athlete to compete in the Olympic games.
The St. Paul-based gymnast’s parents were just children when their families sought refuge in Thailand after fleeing Laos during the Vietnam War, the Star Tribune reported. They later relocated to Minnesota.
“You have the child of a refugee representing the United States of America, so not only representing America, but bringing the spotlight to the Hmong community,” Lee Pao Xiong, director of Concordia University’s Center for Hmong Studies, told The Associated Press. “Even for her to be so proud to say, ‘I’m doing this for my community, I’m doing this for my people,’ she didn’t forget her Hmongness.”
2. She’s the fifth American in a row to win the Olympic women’s gymnastics all-around title.
The last four winners were Biles in 2016, Gabby Douglas in 2012, Nastia Liukin in 2008 and Carly Patterson in 2004, NBC Sports reported.
3. Lee is also slated to compete in next week’s uneven bars and balance beam finals.
In the qualifying round Sunday, she posted the second-highest score on bars (15.2) and the third-highest score on beam (14.2), according to NBC Sports.
Team USA describes her bars routine as “the most difficult ... in the world.”
4. Lee has overcome several hardships to make it to the Games.
A year after a fall off a ladder left her father, John Lee, paralyzed, her aunt and uncle died from COVID-19 complications in 2020, according to Olympics.com. At one point, Lee, who also recently recovered from a broken foot, thought she might quit gymnastics, the AP reported.
“Right now, I’m just trying to compete for everybody, for the Hmong community, my dad and my family,” she said in a May interview with Olympics.com. “I want them to be proud of me.”
5. Her next stop is Auburn University.
Lee announced last fall that she had signed with the school.
“I’m officially a Tiger!!” Lee wrote in a Nov. 10 Instagram post. “A special thank you to my family and coaches for everything they’ve done for me. My parents, for giving up everything for me and being my biggest supporters through everything. My coaches, for pushing me to be the best athlete I can be and teaching to never give up on my dreams. Can’t wait to be a part of the Auburn family.”
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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