Who is Suni Lee? Meet the first Hmong American Olympic gymnast

Team USA’s gold medal gymnastics champion Sunisa “Suni” Lee is an 18-year-old Minnesota native who secured the prime prize in the all-around contest throughout her Olympic debut in Tokyo.

Lee earned a spot in the all-around contest after putting third in the qualifying occasion however she wasn’t anticipated to take house the gold whereas competing beside the GOAT, Simone Biles.

However, Biles, 24, bowed out of the all-around contest after out of the blue dropping out of the crew finals the day earlier than, as a result of struggles together with her psychological well being — setting off a free-for-all the place the gold was suddenly in reach for Lee and her competitors.

In Biles’ absence, Lee rose to the challenge and secured Team USA’s gold medal-winning streak in the all-around competitors, which the ladies’s gymnastics crew has dominated yearly since the 2004 Athens Olympics when Carly Patterson snagged the prime spot.

Suni Lee won the gold in all-around gymnastics at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Suni Lee received the gold in All-Around gymnastics at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Here’s all the pieces you have to learn about Team USA’s latest golden woman. 

Suni Lee is the first Hmong American gymnast to compete in the Olympics

Lee’s parents John and Yeev each hail from Laos however are additionally Hmong, an ethnic group largely present in the mountainous areas of Southeast Asia and components of China who fought beside the US in the Vietnam War, ELLE reported.

Lee has lengthy dreamed to be the first Hmong Olympian and that want lastly got here true for her.

Suni Lee celebrates during the Women's All-Around Final on day six of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Suni Lee celebrates throughout the ladies’s all-around last on day six of the Tokyo Games.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

“It would be the greatest accomplishment of any Hmong person in the US ever,” her dad beforehand instructed ELLE for a profile story on the star gymnast.

“It will go down in history.”

The quest to characterize her tradition was much more necessary for Lee as she and her neighborhood contended with a national surge in anti-Asian violence stirred up amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People hate on us for no reason,” Lee instructed ELLE of the anti-Asian sentiment.

“It would be cool to show that we are more than what they say.”

Sunisa Lee of Team United States competes in the floor exercise during the Women's All-Around Final on day six of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Suni Lee has lengthy dreamed of being the first Hmong Olympian in a quest to characterize her tradition.
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Lee grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota the place there is a big Hmong neighborhood that settled there as refugees in the late Seventies and Nineteen Eighties. During the Vietnam War, many Hmong natives misplaced their land and fled to Thailand earlier than later touchdown in the US.

Lee described the Hmong neighborhood as “really close” and stated their “support” has been “amazing.”

Suni Lee obtained her begin in gymnastics at age six

Lee obtained her begin at the Midwest Gymnastics Center in Little Canada, Minnesota, when she was simply six years outdated underneath the route of coach Punnarith Koy.

The coach loved a front-row seat watching the precocious gymnast’s pure dynamism and steadiness, which propelled her from a boisterous youngster into an American champion.

Suni Lee obtained her begin in gymnastics when she was six years outdated.
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Koy beforehand instructed The Post he watched Lee execute a entrance aerial to again handspring stepout on the excessive beam at nine-years-old — a transfer that helped Gabby Douglas win gold in London in 2012.

“She had that really quick-twitch good power,” Koy, who nonetheless coaches at the health club, recalled.

“That just came naturally. And she has this fearlessness about her.”

Lee quickly caught the consideration of Jess Graba, a coach at Midwest Gymnastics, who has been coaching her ever since.

“It was super raw and she was just a little kid, but she had some talent,” Graba instructed ELLE, recalling after they met.

“Her flips were kind of crazy—she had been practicing in her yard—and she clearly had some ability to go upside down without fear.”

Suni Lee of USA performs on Floor during Women's Qualification on Day 2 of the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships on October 05, 2019.
Punnarith Koy, Suni Lee’s first gymnastics coach, stated that she “has this fearlessness about her.”
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

When Lee was 14, she joined the US junior nationwide crew in 2016 and traveled round the world for competitions.

By 2018, she’d received the gold medal at the National Championships on the uneven bars — her greatest occasion — and a 12 months later, got here inside four-tenths of some extent of beating Biles at the US World Championships choice camp.

Sunni Lee misplaced family to COVID-19 and her father grew to become paralyzed after a tragic accident

While most of the world suffered all through the COVID-19 pandemic, the devastation was additional private for Lee.

The gold-medalist misplaced each her aunt and uncle to the virus lower than two weeks aside.

Lee was very near her family, who used to babysit her as a child and performed an lively position in her gymnastics profession.

Suni Lee of Team United States competes in the floor exercise during the Women's All-Around Final on day six of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Suni Lee tragically misplaced her aunt and uncle to the coronavirus.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Lee’s uncle was a Hmong shaman who helped her heal an injured foot utilizing natural medicines and sizzling ginger, ELLE reported.

Just earlier than her uncle died from the virus, she was solely capable of say goodbye over Zoom.

But whereas the Olympian was mourning the demise of her family, she was additionally serving to to maintain her father, John Lee, who was left paralyzed after an accident.

Two days earlier than the 2019 National Championships, her dad fell from a ladder whereas trimming a tree, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.

Suni Lee's father, John, encouraged her to compete in the 2019 National Championships after he suffered a paralyzing injury.
Suni Lee’s father, John, inspired her to compete in the 2019 National Championships after he suffered a paralyzing harm.
AP/Gregory Bull

At first, her father’s accident appeared prefer it’d put her Olympic goals on maintain as a result of the occasion is an unofficial pre-qualifier for the Games and Graba didn’t assume it was secure for Lee to compete while distracted.

But Lee’s dad inspired her to go to the competitors and simply earlier than she stepped onto the mat, they talked over FaceTime the place the proud pop instructed her to maintain her focus and keep in mind to have enjoyable.


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“She can stay focused when she puts her mind to it,” he instructed ELLE.

She went on to win silver in the all-around and nail one in all the hardest bar routines in the world, paving the approach for her entrance to the Olympics.

What did Suni Lee accomplish in Tokyo and what’s subsequent?

When gymnastics celebrity Biles dropped out of the crew finals and the all-around contest, Lee grew to become the de-facto chief and helped Team USA secure the silver medal behind Russia, who scored the gold.

Suni Lee (center) celebrates her gold medal among silver medalist, Rebeca Andrade(left) and bronze medalist Angelina Melnikova at the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Suni Lee (middle) celebrates her gold medal subsequent to silver medalist, Rebeca Andrade (left), and bronze medalist, Angelina Melnikova, at the 2020 Summer Olympics.
AP/Gregory Bull

Following her first-place win in the all-around, Lee will quickly be again on the mat to compete in the particular person occasion finals the place she’s anticipated to crush the uneven bars and the routine she is most recognized for.

Once she’s finished together with her Olympic competitions, Lee has signed on to attend and compete for Auburn University in Alabama.

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