TOKYO >> As much as anything, Sunisa Lee’s victory in the Olympic Games gymnastics all-around competition Thursday night was the triumph of a resilient athlete who overcame two years of setbacks to emerge a worthy heir to Latynina, Casavska, Comaneci, Liukin and Biles.
Lee, 18, the pride of Little Canada, Minnesota, population 9,700, a Twin Cities suburb, rebounded from a series of injuries, two of which likely would have kept her out of the Olympics if they had been held as scheduled in 2020. She suffered multiple family tragedies, and finally overcame the shock of Simone Biles, the defending Olympic all-around, pulling out of Tuesday’s team final, and the disappointment of losing the team gold medal to Russia, marking the first time since 2010 Team USA had failed to win the team title at an Olympic Games or World Championships since 2010.
With Biles watching from the stands at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, Lee was solid all night but had to watch Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade compete on the floor exercise before she could be assured of the victory. When Andrade stepped out of bounds on the final step of her final tumbling pass, the gold medal was Lee’s.
Lee finished with a score of 57.433. Andrade, despite the mistake, held onto the silver at 57.29 while Russia’s Angelina Melnikova took the bronze at 57.199.
Jade Carey of the U.S., the replacement for Biles who withdrew from the all around Wednesday, was eighth at 54.199.
“It feels crazy, it is so surreal,” Lee said. :It’s a dream come true. I don’t even know what to say. It hasn’t even sunk in.”
Lee missed two months in 2020 with a broken left foot, and another two months with an Achilles tendon injury. She won the 2019 U.S. Championships uneven bars title while competing with a hairline tibia fracture. She dedicated that victory to her father John, who only weeks earlier became paralyzed from the chest down after falling off a ladder.
Lee also lost an aunt and uncle to COVID-19
“The past two years with Covid have been crazy,” she said. “There was one point I wanted to quit. To be here and to be an Olympic gold medalist is just crazy.”