If you’ve been following the Tokyo 2020 Olympics this week, I’m sure you woke up this morning to the news that Sunisa “Suni” Lee, the first Asian American woman, has won the coveted gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics today. Since I am functioning in newborn-mode, I am usually up early to watch live footage of different events at the Olympics, but today, my husband let me sleep in. With my excitement to the news, I quickly raced to the television and try to find footage of Lee performing. Boy, did I cry!
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As a little girl, I remember watching the Olympics and idolizing and cheering after Olympic athletes, especially Asian American ones. Athletes like, skaters Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan, or gymnast Amy Chow, who was one of the Magnificent Seven gymnasts for Team USA in the mid-90s. I recall one moment in grade school, someone commented I looked like Kristi Yamaguchi, and I took that as a compliment.
Now, we add Suni Lee to that small list of Asian American Olympic winners and can show my kids that her hard work has paid off.
Lee, 18 years old Hmong American from Minnesota immigrated from Laos with her parents and her five siblings didn’t always have it rosy. Her father, John Lee is her biggest fan and has sacrificed everything, so it was natural that he built a balance beam for her when they couldn’t afford one, and her mom enrolled her in gymnastics when she was 6 years old. In 2019, her father suffered a spinal injury when he fell from a tree while assisting a neighbor and is now paralyzed from the waist down. But, last year Lee had a tough year with managing an injured ankle, losing her aunt and uncle to COVID-19, and the recent rise of anti-Asian hate.
Those negative and sad emotions just fueled that fire under her to pursue her dreams even harder.
Just a few days ago, everyone had their bet on Simone Biles to bring home the gold for Team USA, including Lee. Lee had publicly stated that she would have loved to win a gold medal, but knew her teammate, Simone Biles would take that title so her goal was to win a silver medal. But, Biles had a different plan for herself this week by withdrawing from the team and all-around event due to managing her own mental health, which gave an opportunity for Lee to shine.
There’s no doubt this opportunity comes with a lot of pressure for Lee, as she was still recovering from her injured ankle last year, but also having to maintain the legacy for Team USA holding the longest all-around gold medals for 16 years with: Carly Patterson (2004), Nastia Liukin (2008), Gabrielle Douglas (2012), and Simone Biles (2016). Lee nailed routine after routine ending with a stellar floor exercise that had last minute changes to her choreography by her coach just that morning to spare her healing ankle.