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Sunisa Lee


Sunisa Lee


Sunisa "Suni" Lee (born Sunisa Phabsomphou; March 9, 2003) is an American artistic gymnast. Lee is the 2020 Olympic all-around champion and uneven bars bronze medalist, the 2019 world championship silver medalist on the floor and bronze medalist on uneven bars. She was a member of the teams that won gold at the 2019 World Championships and silver at the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Lee is the first Hmong-American Olympian. She is also reported to be the first woman of Asian descent and first Asian American woman to win the Olympic all-around title. She is a six-time member of the U.S. women's national gymnastics team, and with six world championship and Olympic medals, she is tied with Gabby Douglas, Kim Zmeskal, Kyla Ross, and Rebecca Bross as the tenth-most-decorated American female gymnast.

Lee has received numerous honors and awards. In 2021, she was named Female Athlete of the Year by Sports Illustrated, named Sportswoman of the Year by the Women's Sports Foundation, and included in Time 100, Time's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. She also received an Asia Game Changer Award.

Early life and family

Sunisa Lee was born Sunisa Phabsomphou on March 9, 2003, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to Yeev Thoj, a healthcare worker. Lee is of Hmong descent, and her mother, a refugee, immigrated to the United States from Laos as a child. Lee was raised by her mother's longtime partner, John Lee, from the age of two and considers him to be her father. She began using his surname professionally as a teenager. Lee has three half-siblings through her mother's relationship with Lee, and Lee had two children from a previous relationship. Her sister Evionn also competed in artistic gymnastics at the regional level.

Lee's interest in gymnastics was initially piqued at age six after watching footage of Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson on YouTube, and her father built a balance beam for her from a mattress. When Lee later started doing backflips outdoors, it became clear to her parents that she needed a safer venue to hone her skills in. They registered her for gymnastics classes at Midwest Gymnastics Center in Little Canada, Minnesota, where she started training under the tutelage of coach Punnarith Koy. The following year, Lee began competing and won the all-around at a state meet, the second competition of her career. At age eight, she moved up three levels, and she qualified for elite at age 11. Koy coached Lee between the age of six to about twelve before Jess Graba, who has been coaching her ever since, took over.

Gymnastics career

Junior career

2015–2018: International debut

Lee competed in the Hopes division in 2015, became a junior elite in 2016, and made her junior elite debut at the 2016 U.S. Classic. She earned a spot on the junior national team in 2017 and debuted internationally at the Gymnix International Junior Cup where the U.S. team won the gold medal in the team event. Lee captured the silver on uneven bars. In May 2017, Lee announced her verbal commitment to Auburn University on a gymnastics scholarship.

Lee was named to the team to compete at the 2018 Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships that took place in April, 2018. She won gold with the U.S. team in the team final and went on to secure the silver medal on vault, balance beam, and in the floor exercise. She placed 4th in the all-around. A month later, she withdrew from the Pan American Junior Championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina, after sustaining an ankle injury. In July 2018, Lee competed at the 2018 U.S. Classic where she finished fifth in the all-around and won the gold medal on balance beam despite not doing a dismount. She was one of the favorites for the national junior title along with Leanne Wong, Jordan Bowers, and Kayla DiCello heading into the 2018 U.S. Championships in Boston and came third in the all-around behind Wong and DiCello. She won gold on the uneven bars.

Senior career

2019: Senior debut and world medalist

Lee made her international senior debut at the 2019 City of Jesolo Trophy in Italy where she won the all-around title and took home the gold with the U.S. team in the team final. In the event finals, she placed first on the uneven bars and on floor, and third on the balance beam behind reigning world champion Liu Tingting of China and teammate Emma Malabuyo.

Lee won the silver on beam at the 2019 American Classic in June and finished fifth on bars after falling off twice. After the conclusion of the event, Lee was among the eight athletes under consideration for the team to be fielded at the 2019 Pan American Games, but would have to compete at the 2019 U.S. Classic to secure her place. In the end, Lee was not named to the team after placing second on bars and tying for eighth on beam at U.S. Classic.

It was a year plagued by injuries. Lee injured her ankle and sustained a hairline fracture to her left tibia after a dismount from the balance beam. She was still recovering from her injuries by the time the 2019 U.S. Championships rolled around in August. Still, Lee competed on all four events, and after the first day of competition, she was in second place in the all-around behind Simone Biles and in first place on uneven bars. On the second day of competition, she continued to perform clean routines and finished second in the all-around behind Biles. She won gold on bars ahead of Morgan Hurd and placed fourth on beam behind Biles, Kara Eaker, and Leanne Wong. She also won the bronze on floor behind Biles and Jade Carey. As a result, she was named to the national team. A month later at the world team selection camp, Lee finished second by 0.350 points in the all-around behind Biles. The next day, Lee was chosen to represent the U.S. at the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart alongside Biles, Kara Eaker, MyKayla Skinner, Jade Carey, and Grace McCallum. Lee was the only first-year senior named to the team and the only team member without prior World Championships experience.

Lee competed in her first world championships in October 2019. The U.S. took first at team qualifications with a score of 174.205, more than five points ahead of China in second with 169.161. Lee advanced to the individual all-around final in second place after Biles despite a fall on the balance beam. She also qualified second behind Biles to the floor exercise final, beating out teammate Carey in a tiebreaker, and to the uneven bars final in third place behind reigning World Champion Nina Derwael of Belgium and 2015 World Champion Daria Spiridonova of Russia. Lee competed on uneven bars, balance beam, and floor and helped the U.S. to gold in the team final ahead of Russia and Italy. She had another fall on the beam, but her scores on bars (14.733) and floor exercise (14.233) were the third highest of the day on the two events. She finished in eighth place in the all-around final after an uncharacteristic mistake on the uneven bars. Two days later, in the uneven bars final, Lee performed a clean routine and posted a score of 14.800. She won the bronze medal behind Derwael and Becky Downie. She also won the silver in the floor exercise final behind Biles.

2020: Injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic

In late January, it was announced that Lee would compete at the Stuttgart World Cup scheduled to take place in March, but the event was canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lee's gym closed temporarily for three weeks as part of the pandemic response and when she returned, she broke a bone in her left foot which left her out of action for two months. An injury to her Achilles tendon sidelined her for another two months. In November, Lee committed to Auburn University and signed her National Letter of Intent.

2021: Olympic all-around champion

Lee returned to competition in February at the 2021 Winter Cup, where she competed on uneven bars and balance beam. She placed first on bars and third on beam behind Skye Blakely and Jordan Chiles, despite doing a relatively low-scoring dismount. She went on to compete at the 2021 American Classic in April. She placed first on bars and beam with scores of 15.200 and 14.550, and finished fifth on floor even though she opted to simplify two tumbling passes. A month later, in May, Lee competed at the 2021 U.S. Classic on the uneven bars and balance beam. She fell off both apparatus and placed tenth and eighth respectively.

The 2021 U.S. Championships took place in early June. Lee executed a bars routine with a 6.8 difficulty value, scoring 15.300. She went on to win the silver in the all-around behind Simone Biles. She placed first on the uneven bars, second on the balance beam, and qualified for the upcoming U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials. A few weeks later, Lee competed on all four events at the two-day Olympic Trials. She achieved an uneven bars score of 15.300 on day one and found herself in second place in the all-around behind Biles. On day two, she earned a combined score of 58.166 and beat Biles' 57.533. This was only the third time in Biles' senior career and the first time since 2013 that another gymnast had posted a higher all-around score. However, Lee's combined score over the two days was less than Biles' and she finished second overall, securing her spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic team alongside Biles. Also named to the team were Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum.

2020 Olympic Games

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo from the summer of 2020 to July 23-August 8, 2021. Lee competed on all four events during qualifications; the U.S. advanced to the team final in second place behind the Russian Olympic Committee. Lee finished third overall behind Simone Biles and Rebeca Andrade and qualified for the individual all-around final. She progressed to the uneven bars final in second place behind Nina Derwael and the balance beam final in third behind Guan Chenchen and Tang Xijing.

Lee was initially to compete only on uneven bars and balance beam in the team final, but when Biles withdrew from the competition after the first rotation, Lee replaced her on floor exercise. She hit all three of her routines and scored 15.400 on bars and 14.133 on beam. The U.S. won the silver medal behind The Russian Olympic Committee. In the all-around final, Lee posted a score of 14.600 on the vault, 15.300 on the uneven bars, 13.833 on beam and 13.700 on floor, leading all competitors with a 57.433 total overall. She won the women's individual all-around gold ahead of Brazil's Rebeca Andrade and Angelina Melnikova of the Russian Olympic Committee. Lee is the sixth U.S. woman to claim the Olympic all-around title following Mary Lou Retton, Carly Patterson, Nastia Liukin, Gabby Douglas, and Simone Biles. She is also the first Hmong-American Olympian, the first Asian American woman to take the Olympic all-around crown, and was reported to be the first all-around Asian champion of any nationality. Lee was the first competitor in the starting order in the uneven bars final and uncharacteristically failed to connect several elements. She scored 14.500 and captured the bronze. She received a score of 13.866 in the balance beam final and placed fifth after a large balance check on one of her elements.

In recognition of her historic Olympic success, the governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, and the mayor of St. Paul, Melvin Carter, declared Friday, July 30, 2021, as "Sunisa Lee Day". Lee registered for classes at Auburn University in August 2021 and left elite gymnastics to compete in the NCAA.

NCAA

2021–2022 season: NCAA champion on beam, NCAA all-around runner-up

Lee made her NCAA debut on January 7, 2022, in a tri-meet against North Carolina and Bowling Green. She competed on uneven bars and balance beam to help Auburn secure the win. A week later, Lee debuted her floor exercise routine in a meet against Arkansas. She made her all-around debut for Auburn on January 28 in a matchup with Alabama. Auburn won the meet with Lee winning the all-around title outright with a total score of 39.700. She shared the individual bars and beam titles. As a result, Lee was named SEC freshman of the week for the first time. On February 5, Lee earned her first collegiate perfect ten on the uneven bars in a meet against LSU. She was only the sixth Auburn gymnast to score a perfect ten and the first since 2004. Lee also won the all-around with a score of 39.825. On February 25, in a meet against Kentucky, Lee earned her first perfect ten on the balance beam and became the first collegiate gymnast to perform a Nabieva on the uneven bars. At the NCAA Championship, Lee finished first on balance beam and second in the all-around behind Trinity Thomas.

2022–2023 season: Super 16 all-around title

On November 15, 2022, Lee announced that the 2022–2023 season would be her final season competing for Auburn University so that she could return to elite gymnastics with the goal of competing at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Lee's first meet of the season was at the inaugural Super 16 event in Las Vegas where she won the balance beam title with a perfect 10 and the all-around title with a cumulative score of 39.75.

In March 2023 Lee was diagnosed with an unspecified rare kidney condition for which there is no cure. On April 3 Lee announced that she would end her sophomore season early due to her health issues, thus concluding her NCAA gymnastics career.

Career perfect 10.0

NCAA Regular season ranking

Return to elite gymnastics

In early August 2023, she made her comeback to elite gymnastics at the 2023 U.S. Classic, where she qualified for the U.S. Championships by scoring 14.500 on the balance beam and 13.500 on the vault. A few weeks later, Lee competed on the vault and balance beam at the 2023 U.S. Championships in San Jose and won the bronze on the beam.

Lee was invited to attend the team selection camp for the World Championships and Pan American Games but chose not to participate, citing her kidney-related health issues.

Lee began the 2024 season competing at the 2024 Winter Cup where she had rough performances on the uneven bars and balance beam. She next competed at the American Classic where she placed first on balance beam. At the Core Hydration Classic Lee competed on floor exercise for the first time since the Tokyo Olympic Games. Additionally she placed first on balance beam.

Public life and popular culture

Endorsements

In 2022, Lee cut endorsement deals with Amazon, Invisalign, Gatorade, Target and CLIF Bars. Axios called her one of the most marketable NCAA athletes. She inked a deal with American footwear company Crocs in March 2023, and was featured in an ad for Sony's Final Fantasy 16 in June 2023. She was also hired by The LEGO Group and was featured in "Play Unstoppable" alongside soccer star Megan Rapinoe, journalist and author Elaine Welteroth and other inspiring women. The game aimed to celebrate the accomplishments of women and encourage girls to embrace their passions.

Fashion

Lee partnered with GK Elite in 2021 and designed a signature collection of leotards. In January 2022, Lee launched her first capsule collection in collaboration with British fashion retailer PrettyLittleThing. "I love fashion so much and when I’m not in my leotard, I love putting looks together. Being an athlete I live in athleisure, so I wanted to design clothes that were a bit more fashion-forward," said Lee.

Television and media appearances

Lee was featured in the YouTube Originals documentary series Defying Gravity: The Untold Story of Women's Gymnastics that consisted of six episodes and premiered on September 21, 2020. The series uses archive footage and interviews with former, current and up-and-coming champions to take viewers inside the world of women's elite gymnasts. In June 2021, Lee starred in the docuseries Golden: The Journey of USA's Elite Gymnasts that was released on Peacock. The series follows top U.S. gymnasts as they compete for a spot on Team USA ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Dancing with the Stars

A few months after the 2020 Olympics, Lee competed on season 30 of Dancing with the Stars. She was the seventh Olympic gymnast to be a contestant on the show, following Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez, Simone Biles, and Mary Lou Retton. In the premiere episode, Sasha Farber was revealed as her partner. Farber had previously danced with Biles and Retton. Lee was eliminated in week 9 and finished in 5th place.

Personal life and education

Lee went to Battle Creek Elementary in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She later attended South St. Paul Secondary and received her high school diploma in June 2021. She enrolled at Auburn University in August 2021 as a business marketing major, but left after her sophomore year in order to return to elite gymnastics with her sights set on the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

In August 2019, a few days before Lee competed in her first senior U.S. championships, her father suffered a spinal cord injury after falling off a ladder. He was paralyzed from the waist down. The following year, Lee's aunt and uncle died from COVID-19. When discussing these tragedies, Lee said, "I am tougher because of it."

Lee said she was pepper-sprayed in a racial incident in November 2021 while in Los Angeles for her stint on Dancing with the Stars. In January 2022, she spoke about racist comments she had received from her own Hmong-American community about her relationship with USC Trojans football player Jaylin Smith.

Competitive skills

Among the skills Lee has performed in competition are:

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Competitive history

Awards

Filmography

See also

  • History of the Hmong in Minneapolis–Saint Paul

Notes and references

Citations

External links

  • Sunisa Lee on Instagram
  • Sunisa Lee at USA Gymnastics
  • Sunisa Lee at Olympics.com
  • Sunisa Lee at Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique
  • Sunisa Lee at IMDB

Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: Sunisa Lee by Wikipedia (Historical)