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Overcoming personal tragedies, Sunisa Lee wins gymnastics gold for USA

Sunisa Lee shines at the Tokyo Olympics after suffering a loss of family member due to Covid, her dad's freak accident, and uncertainty around the Olympics.

Overcoming personal tragedies, Sunisa Lee wins gymnastics gold for USA

Naveed Mohammed

Updated: 29 July 2021 1:45 PM GMT

American gymnast Sunisa Lee has now won the gold in the women's individual all-around event after Simone Biles pulled out of the Tokyo Olympics. Brazil's Rebeca Andrade won silver, the first by her country in women's gymnastics and Russia's Angelina Melnikova won bronze.

Sunisa's win makes it the fifth consecutive gold for USA in the individual all-around event after the 18-year-old became the highest qualifying US gymnast to compete.

She started her gymnastics journey on a balance beam her father made out of a soft, lumpy mattress and a piece of plywood when she was seven years old. Little did she know she will be representing the USA at the Olympics alongside Simone Biles, a legend of the sport. On the other hand, her parents did not have a shred of doubt that Lee will make it to the Olympics. Lee's parents bought flight tickets to the Olympics even before she had qualified for Tokyo, which later got postponed due to the Covid pandemic. However, Lee's qualification for Tokyo Olympics was far from easy. She had to overcome a loss in the family, an accident her father suffered and uncertainty due to Olympic postponement.

Lee was born to immigrant parents who moved to the US from Laos. From an early age, Lee oozed raw talent and fearlessness, which caught the eye of Jess Graba, a coach at Midwest Gymnastics. Later, under Graba's guidance, Lee made the US junior national team in 2016. At this point, it was clear that Lee was destined for greatness; even her Hero, Nastia Liukin, started to notice her. "Her abilities as a gymnast, especially her bar routine, are incredible, But it's the unparalleled mental strength that she has shown during the most difficult time of her life that make her the person she is." Liukin told ELLE magazine.
Liukin referred to Lee's struggle when her father, John Lee, fell from a ladder while trimming a tree for a friend. The accident left John paralysed from the waist below. John's accident could not have happened at a worse time as Sunisa Lee was just two days away from participating in the 2019 National Championship. Lee's coach Graba even felt she shouldn't compete in the event as he believed; A distracted Athlete is a danger to themself. But John Lee said, "She can stay focused when she puts her mind to it," to ELLE Magazine.

In March 2020, the Olympics got postponed due to the pandemic; Lee was left under a cloud of uncertainty which threw her laid out plans into disarray. Lee went through a depressed phase and said it was hard to get out of. But, Lee found solace in Simone Biles, who could relate to what Lee was going through. During the lockdown, the now US Olympic teammates snapchatted and texted as both of them had to tweak their preparations for the mega event that got postponed by a year. Unfortunately, when the families around the world were fighting Covid-19, so did Lee. Her Aunt and Uncle, who used to babysit Lee when she was little, succumbed to the virus just two weeks apart. Lee's uncle was a Hmong shaman and had helped her after she suffered a devastating foot injury with herbal medicine. Unfortunately, Lee could only say goodbye to her through zoom.
During the US Olympic trials this week, Lee grabbed 1 of the three guaranteed spots to Tokyo. Lee, already a 2-time US champion on the uneven bars, scored an impressive 15.300 on day 1, which turned out to be a career and meet high at the trials. In the end, Lee finished second with 115.832 points behind Simone Biles, who took the top spot with 118.089. Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum, selected by the Committee, will join the duo to make up the Team USA.
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