From almost quitting to Olympic medalist - how these gymnasts created history
Suni Lee, Rebeca Andrade and Angelina Melnikova created all kinds of history with their wins - but it didn't come easy. Read about their stories and how they overcame adversity
The Olympics is more than just a conglomeration of the best athletes in the world. It is more than a display of talent and hard work. It is more than the medals and the glory. What captures the hearts and emotions of viewers around the world, are the stories. Of triumph and heartache. Of comebacks and underdogs. Of champions reminding us that sport goes beyond medals. The beautiful intertwining of overcoming adversity and chasing a dream. What has especially stood out these Tokyo Olympics, are the stories of the athletes. After the world endured and continues to endure a deadly pandemic, the Olympics become a symbol, they engender hope and promise, a quick but constant reminder to persevere and dream.
From Brashim and Tamberi sharing an emotional high jump gold to Tom Daley finally getting his Olympic gold after 2 Olympics. From all-time greats like Simone Biles and Osaka bravely prioritizing and advocating for mental health to 18 year old Sunisa Lee winning the gold for the Hmong community, these Olympics have been one to cherish.
The medallists from the Olympic gymnastics all-around final have incredible stories and rollercoaster journeys to the Games. Sunisa Lee, Biles' teammate, Rebeca Andrade from Brazil and Angelina Melnikova from ROC were the top names going in. And they did not disappoint. After a close, hard fought competition coming down to the last routine from Andrade, a small misstep meant the gold would go to Sunisa Lee. The 18 year old from Minnesota clinched the gold followed by Andrade and lastly, Melnikova from ROC.
Almost quitting to Olympic gold
At only 18, Suni Lee has joined the Olympic all-around gold medallist club for the USA gymnastics women. The first Hmong American to win an Olympic medal, Suni Lee gives her community the recognition and hope they deserve. After facing persecution in every country they resided in, the Hmong community often found themselves looking for a place to call home. Surviving the Vietnam War and persecution from the Lao Communist Party, many Hmong fled to safety. Suni's parents, John Lee and Yeev Thoj were among those who escaped and eventually found a home in Minnesota. After years of trauma and struggle, Suni's medal and achievement will inspire the Hmong community and create a sense of hope to the younger generation of girls and women in the community.
Apart from the pride Suni brings to the Hmong community, this achievement and her determination to continue gymnastics, holds a special place in her father's heart. John Lee, suffered a terrible fall off a ladder while fixing the roof of their house back in 2019 that ended in him getting paralysed. All this happened as Suni was about to leave for US National Championships. Although she decided not to compete following the news, her father called her form the hospital and urged her to follow her dreams. Suni went on to place second at Nationals and win three medals at eh World Championships that year.
The grit and determination Suni displayed after injuries, her father's accident and countless setbacks to win Olympic gold is remarkable and the true mark of a champion. After wanting to quit multiple times, she pushed herself, never gave up and today is a symbol of perseverance and promise for not just the Hmong community but young 18year olds around the world.
History for Brazil
Rebeca Andrade created history when she became the first female Olympic all-around medallist after qualifying as an individual to the Olympics. Two days later, she created history again to become the first ever Brazilian gymnast to become Olympic Champion. She did this by winning the vault event, performing the two best high difficulty vaults in the final
What most didn't know was that, for Andrade to come away with gold on vault and a silver in the all-around is especially creditable since three out of four women's gymnastics events are lower limb dominated. Andrade has had terrible luck the past quad with lower limb injuries.
Rebeca has suffered from a torn ACL three times in her career. The first occurred in 2015 followed by one in 2017 at the World Championships and the last one coming right before the Olympics in 2019. All three injuries came at crucial times in Andrade's career when she was favoured to win medals. ACL injuries usually take 8 months to recover from for the normal population, let alone a gymnast who is competing at the highest level in her sport.
Through the setbacks and adversity, Andrade has shown tremendous resilience and a 'never give up' attitude to finally have the competition of her life at the biggest stage of them all.
Heartbreak to redemption
Angelina Melnikova from ROC is not a new name in gymnastics. She came to Tokyo having already had an Olympic experience under her belt. However, it was not one she wanted. She needed a new memory, a better one.
After ending the Rio Olympics in tears, wanting to stop gymnastics, Angelina turned a switch and ever since has flourished the entire quad. She has carried the Russian team from 2017 up to these Olympics, showing immense character, hard work and passion. Determined to never shed those tears of sadness from Rio again, Angelina has silently worked in the shadows to build her confidence and consistency in performance, two areas that have often hampered her performance. She came to Tokyo with a new avatar, showing consistency and confidence that led ROC to top the standings after the qualifications.
She continued her impressive feat through team finals, locking up victory with her final floor performance under immense pressure. After giving ROC its first gold medal in the team finals after 1992, she went on to win a bronze in the all-around. Melnikova has outdone herself with her performance and personality that has captured and attracted audiences everywhere in the world. From an inexperienced and emotional 16 year old at Rio, to a mature, consistent and also emotional (happy, this time!) 21 year old in Tokyo, she personifies the power of a dream.
Although there are three different stories in the journeys of Suni Lee, Andrade and Melnikova, all three highlight similar qualities – of grit, passion and perseverance. They are champions today in their own right, and more importantly, exemplars of who an elite athlete is.