In only a week or less to the Tokyo Olympics, Sunisa Lee, an 18-year-old from Minnesota, will become the first Hmong-American to represent the United States at the Olympic Games.
At the Olympic Trials, Lee scored the highest on the beam and the uneven parallel bars, and her performance even garnered a standing ovation from the audience. After witnessing her historic performance at the Trials, Lee is now expected to be a contender for the gold medal on the high bars. Lee earned the highest all-around score of the Olympic Trials on Day 2, besting the greatest of all time, Simone Biles herself, by more than half a point.
“The last couple of months have been crazy,” she said. “It’s been a long journey. I told myself to take deep breaths and do what I normally do. No turning back. I had to let everything go. It’s so surreal to say I am an Olympian.” – Sunisa Lee.
This will be a historic moment for the Hmong-American community. Seng Alex Vang, a lecturer in Asian American Studies at California State University, spoke about the impact Lee has already had on that community.
“I think a lot of people are sharing in this success because, again, like, this is such a historic moment for our community to have someone become an Olympian,” he said. “When a Hmong person is able to do something, whether it’s good or bad, it reflects our entire community,” he said. “Because Hmong people live in different countries as well, although she’s Hmong American, in some ways, she represents the entire global Hmong community, too.” – Seng Alex Vang.
It has been a tumultuous couple of years for Lee, which makes her dominance at the Olympic Trials that much more impressive. She has struggled with an ankle injury for some time now, walking with a visible limp as recently as a couple of weeks ago. However, Lee said before the Trials that her ankle seemed to be improving and getting stronger with competition, and she certainly did not let it slow her down.
On a more serious note, Lee’s family has also experienced some rough times. In late 2019, her father, John, fell from a ladder, which paralyzed him from the chest down. Mere days after her father’s life-changing accident, Lee competed in nationals and finished second to Biles in the all-around. The competition established her as a contender for Tokyo, and she made the gold-medal winning team for world championships that year.
The U.S Gymnastics Championships in early June was the first competition of Lee’s that her father has been able to attend since his accident, and his presence drove Lee to perform phenomenally. John Lee also attended the Olympic Trials, proud to watch his daughter compete.
“I just told her, ‘Go out there, just go have fun, don’t worry about anything, just enjoy,’ ” he said. “Do your best.” – John Lee.
Sunisa Lee’s story is an inspiring one, and her athletic performance rarely fails to meet high expectations. She is such a young contender in these Olympics, with a bright, shining, gold-medal future ahead of her. She has overcome a lot of adversity, tragedy, and difficulty to be where she is now, and the whole gymnastics world is watching her.