It’s nice to be reminded why the Olympic Games hold such a special place in our hearts.
The Tokyo Olympics have been a bit of a downer in its first week. The lack of fans present at events has made it seem more like a practice than the highest level of competition in the world. NBC has no idea how to market event schedules, and all-world gymnast Simone Biles has pulled out of two Olympic events to focus on, she noted, her “mental health.”
It hasn’t made for a particularly enjoyable Olympics thus far.
Luckily, we have athletes like Suni Lee to remind us of why we tune in to the Games. With Biles not participating in Thursday’s individual all-around, the gold medal was up for grabs, and America won out once again.
Lee became the fifth-straight American woman to take home the gold in the all-around competition, with Brazilian gymnast Rebeca Andrade grabbing silver and Angelina Melnikova of the Russian Olympic Committee taking home the bronze.
Suni’s victory is a wonderful reminder as to why the Olympics have always meant so much. It’s the stories of perseverance and American excellence that keep us coming back.
Lee is the first Hmong American to make the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. Her parents emigrated from Laos and settled in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. Lee is well-aware of what her celebrity means for the Hmong people, as does her father.
“As I watch her, I’ll be thinking, ‘If she brings home a couple of medals, hopefully a couple of gold, I mean, that would be so great for the family, the community, and for USA,’” Lee’s father, John Lee, told TODAY.
When Lee was just seven years old, her father built a balance beam for his daughter out of a spare mattress. The beam still stands in their yard to this day.
“She goes to the gym and she practices but we don’t have a beam here,” John said. “So I couldn’t afford a real beam, so I built her one.”
When she was a kid, Suni’s parents couldn’t afford to get her a balance beam for her to practice, so her dad built her one. From a homemade balance beam to an Olympic gold medalist. Amazing
— Alexandra DeSanctis Marr (@xan_desanctis) July 29, 2021
Lee’s talent was quickly noticed by a coach at Midwest Gymnastics — Jess Graba.
“It was super raw and she was just a little kid, but she had some talent,” Graba told ELLE. “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.”
At just 14 years old, Lee made the U.S. junior national team and took home the gold medal on the uneven bars at the National Championships in 2018. Then the challenges came. And in waves.
In 2019, her father fell from a ladder while trimming a tree, paralyzing him from the chest down. In March 2020, the Olympics were postponed, putting Lee’s dreams on hold.
“To have that taken away from us without having any control is very hard,” Lee said. “I went through a depressed phase, and it was hard to get out of.”
In June 2020 — three months after her gym was shut down due to the pandemic — Lee returned to the gym, only to break her foot. That same summer, tragedy struck as her aunt and uncle died of COVID less than two weeks apart.
“Her abilities as a gymnast, especially her bar routine, are incredible,” Five-time Olympic medalist Nastia Liukin told ELLE. “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.”
Lee has persevered through it all and is now an Olympic gold medalist. She is the ultimate American success story, the perfect example as to why we patiently wait every four years to cheer on our athletes.
She did it. @sunisalee_ is the queen of the women’s gymnastics all-around finals and her parents. OMG. Tears every where. 🥺 #Gold #TokyoOlympics #hmong pic.twitter.com/n2xM7VJOPq
— Gia Vang (@Gia_Vang) July 29, 2021
“The Hmong here are very proud to be American,” Sia Lo, a St. Paul attorney and a member of Lee’s extended family told the Star Tribune. “We hope all of America is proud of Suni. What she’s achieved showcases what is possible here in the United States.”
We most certainly are proud, Suni.
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to [email protected]
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.