‘The people I do it all for’: US gymnast Sunisa Lee, 18, pays tribute to Laotian refugee parents after winning GOLD in the all-around final as Simone Biles cheered her on following shock withdrawal
- Lee, 18, forged ahead to a gold medal win in the hotly-contested final, while Biles cheered from the stands
- Biles went into the Olympics as the favorite to win the all-around event, which would have been her second consecutive championship title, before announcing on Wednesday that she was pulling out of the final
- She cited her mental health struggles as the reason for her withdrawal – hinting that the issues are related to trauma from the abuse she suffered at the hands of pedophile doctor Larry Nassar
- The former Olympic champion put on a brave face, smiling and cheering in the stands as Lee and and Biles’ replacement Jade Carey, 21, took part in the all-around final, which ended up in an incredibly close race
- Lee, from Minnesota, put up strong performances on all four events, however she did not cement her win until the final rotation, when she went head-to-head with Brazilian athlete Rebeca Andrade
- Andrade, 22, made several mistakes in her floor routine, allowing Lee to forge ahead and claim victory
- Carey had very disappointing routines on the uneven bars and balance beam, which saw her drop out of medal contention, although her floor exercise was incredibly strong
- Lee will now move on to compete in the finals for the uneven bars and the balance beam, both of which Biles also qualified for – although she has yet to confirm whether she will take part
Newly-crowned Olympic all-around gymnastics champion Sunisa Lee paid emotional tribute to her refugee parents in the wake of her sensational gold medal win in Tokyo on Thursday.
Moments after receiving her medal, the 18-year-old, from Minnesota, shared a video of her family and friends celebrating her victory at home, while writing: ‘The people I do it all for. I LOVE YOU ALL.’
Lee’s post followed an incredibly close all-around competition, during which the teenager put on a spectacular display of skills to claim the win in a battle that was blown wide open by 24-year-old Biles’ shock decision to pull out of the race.
Biles, from Texas, put on a brave face as she cheered and clapped for fellow Team USA gymnast Lee, 18, who forged ahead to victory in the hotly-contested final – which Biles had been widely expected to win – putting up strong routines on all four events in her quest for gold medal success.
Minnesota native Lee quickly became one of the favorites to claim all-around gold after Biles announced that she was pulling out of the competition, citing her mental health struggles as the reason for her withdrawal.
Lee qualified for the all-around final in third place, behind Biles and Brazilian gymnast Rebeca Andrade, however she quickly proved herself to be a top contender for the gold in the opening minutes of the competition, which she started with a very strong performance on vault, before moving on to the bars, beam, and floor exercise.
The teenager was reduced to tears of joy as her victory was announced in the stadium shortly after she completed her sensational routine on the floor, twisting and leaping to gold medal success, while former Olympic champion Biles cheered and applauded from the sidelines.
Champion: US gymnast Sunisa Lee stormed to victory in the Olympic all-around final in Tokyo on Thursday while her teammate Simone Biles watched on – having blown the competition wide open by her shock decision to withdraw
Winner: The 18-year-old, from Minnesota, put up very impressive routines on all four events, ending the final with a stunning performance on the floor exercise, which cemented her victory and earned her the all-around crown
Emotional: Lee cried tears of joy as her gold medal win was announced
Watching on: Biles, 24, went into the Olympics as the favorite to win the competition, before announcing her decision to pull out of the all-around final, citing issues with her mental health as the reason for her withdrawal
Biles put on a brave face during the competition and was seen waving and smiling for the cameras, as her teammate Lee took over her title of Olympic all-around champion
Lee paid a heartfelt tribute to her Laotian refugee parents shortly after her win, sharing a video of her family and friends celebrating her victory at home, while writing: ‘The people I do it all for. I love you all’
The gymnast clinched her victory in the hotly-contested final, overtaking her main rival, Brazilian athlete Rebeca Andrade, mid-way through the competition
She celebrated with a huge hug from her US teammate Jade Carey, 21, who replaced Biles in the all-around competition, but had a disappointing competition that saw her making several mistakes on the uneven bars and balance beam, which ultimately landed her in eighth place overall.
Simone Biles’ Olympic crown is claimed by US teammate Sunisa Lee: The final standings of the women’s all-around
- Sunisa Lee (USA): 57.433
- Rebeca Andrade (Brazil): 57.298
- Angelina Melnikova (ROC): 57.199
- Vladislava Urazova (ROC)
- Mai Murakami (Japan)
- Nina Derwael (Belgium)
- Tang Xijing (China)
- Jade Carey (USA)
- Elisabeth Seitz (Germany)
- Jessica Gadirova (Great Britain)
- Mélanie de Jesus dos Santos (France)
- Carolann Héduit (France)
- Jennifer Gadirova (Great Britain)
- Zsófia Kovács (Hungary)
- Giulia Steingruber (Switzerland)
- Brooklyn Moors (Canada)
- Kim Bui (Germany)
- Lu Yufei (China)
- Martina Maggio (Italy)
- Alice D’Amato (Italy)
- Lee Yun-seo (South Korea)
- Roxana Popa (Spain)
- Jutta Verkest (Belgium)
- Lieke Wevers (Netherlands)
Lee on the other hand was near-perfect throughout the competition, making just a handful of tiny mistakes throughout, ensuring that the all-around title remained firmly in US hands and continuing a legacy that was started by Carly Patterson in 2004, and then continued by Nastia Liukin in 2008, Gabby Douglas in 2012, and Biles in 2016.
She moved ahead into first-place position mid-way through the final, overtaking Brazilian athlete Rebeca Andrade, 22, who qualified in the silver medal spot behind Biles – but surged ahead in the opening rounds of the competition, before Lee staged a dramatic overtake.
The teenager began the competition on the vault, where she earned a solid score of 14.6, which left her in second place behind Andrade – a position that she maintained after the uneven bars, her best event, where she scored a sky-high 15.3.
However, it was on the four-inch-wide balance beam that Lee shook up the standings and flipped herself into the top spot, putting up a very solid routine that earned her a score of 13.833 and, more importantly, landed her in gold medal position before the final event: floor exercise.
After years of dominance by Biles, who has proven herself almost unbeatable since she rocketed onto the gymnastics scene ahead of the 2016 Games in Rio, the all-around final was incredibly close, with just a few tenths of a point separating the top three gymnasts as they prepared to tumble their way across the floor.
It was predicted that Andrade, who boasted a higher starting score than Lee, would clinch the gold medal in the final minutes of the competition, however her dreams of championship success were quickly dashed when she landed out of bounds on her first tumbling pass, before making several other mistakes.
This then cleared the way for Lee to leap to victory, cementing her status as the new darling of gymnastics.
Her incredibly clean and dynamic floor routine saw her end the competition on top and she was quickly reduced to tears of joy as her gold medal win was announced around the arena – prompting enthusiastic applause and cheers from Biles, who was seated in the stands alongside her fellow Team USA gymnasts Jordan Chiles, Grace McCallum, and Mykayla Skinner.
The gymnast’s victory also prompted screams of excitement and joy from her family and friends at home, who gathered together to watch Lee take part in the all-around and were filmed reacting in ecstasy as she clinched the all-around title.
Lee’s father, John, who was paralyzed and left in a wheelchair after sustaining a spinal injury when he fell from a tree in 2019, appeared overcome with emotion as he watched his daughter’s Olympic dreams come true – having spent years supporting her from the sidelines.
However he was unable to travel to Tokyo after spectators were banned from making the trip to Japan amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – and serious fears for the health and safety of both the Olympic competitors and the locals.
Champion: Lee put up incredibly strong routines on all four events, making very few mistakes throughout the competition, after becoming one of the favorites to win gold following Biles’ withdrawal
Teammates: The champion received a huge hug from her teammate Jade Carey, 21, who replaced Biles in the all-around final, and ended up with a top ten finish, landing herself in eighth place overall
Cheerleaders: Lee’s family and friends were seen celebrating her win at home in Minnesota, having been forced to watch on from afar after spectators were banned from traveling to Japan for the Games amid the ongoing pandemic
Proud: Lee’s father (pictured in Minnesota), who was left partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair after falling out of a tree in 2019, appeared overcome with emotion as his daughter stormed to victory
Incredible: Her father John and mother Yeev Thoj were both seen tearing up as they watched the final unfold
First up: The teenager’s quest for victory began on the vault, where she earned a solid score of 14.6 after performing an impressive Yurchenko double twist
All the way up: Lee then moved onto bars – her best event – where she earned a huge score of 15.3, which helped her to move up into silver medal position, just behind Brazilian gymnast Andrade
Moving on up! It was on the four-inch-wide balance beam that Lee staged her dramatic overtake to move into the gold medal spot, having put up a very solid routine that earned a score of 13.833
Instead, Lee’s mother and father were forced to watch on from afar as their daughter stormed to victory in the all-around – a history-making result that prompted elated tears from her family at home.
Both of Lee’s parents are Laotian refugees who fled the country in the wake of the Vietnam war – and even before her gold medal win, she earned a place in the history books with her participation in Tokyo as the first Hmong-American to represent Team USA at the Olympics.
Lee has now become the fifth consecutive American gymnast to win gold in the Olympic all-around competition, following in the footsteps of sporting legends and bringing much-needed glory to USA Gymnastics, which has been mired in controversy and scandal for the past few years in the wake of former team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse being brought to light.
The pedophile was revealed to have sexually assaulted more than 150 gymnasts during his 30-year career – including Biles, who hinted on Wednesday that the trauma of his abuse is behind the mental health issues that prompted her to withdraw from both the all-around and the team finals.
18-year-old Lee’s all-around win sees her claim her second medal at the Tokyo Games, having helped the US to win silver in the team final following Biles’ dramatic withdrawal from competition.
The gymnast will have two more shots at a medal at this year’s Olympics, having qualified for both the balance beam and uneven bars finals – both of which she is due to compete in with Biles, who has yet to confirm whether or not she plans to take part.
Lee is a top contender for a medal in both events, having placed second in the qualifiers for the uneven bars – which is her strongest apparatus – behind Belgium’s Nina Derwael, and third in the balance beam, behind China’s Guan Chenchen and Tang Xijing.
New role: Biles looked tense at several points during the competition, removing her face mask briefly as she watched the athletes compete for the title that she was widely expected to win
Emotional: Despite smiling for the cameras, Biles appeared to get emotional at one point – and was seen putting her hands up to her face as she watched Carey land her vault
The gymnast sat in between her teammates Jordan Chiles (left) and Mykayla Skinner (right) as she cheered on the US athletes
Ready to go! Both Lee and Carey went into the competition in strong contention for the gold medal, with the latter only earning her spot in the all-around final when Biles announced that she was withdrawing
Flying high: Carey, who is from Arizona, completed an impressive Cheng that earned her a 15.2 – however her dreams of winning an all-around were dashed after she made several mistakes on the uneven bars and beam
Lee faced tough opposition from Adrade (left) and Russian star Angelina Melnikova (right), who finished in second and third place respectively, having fought tooth and nail until the very end of the nail-biting final
The Team USA star managed to fend off the competition and maintain her gold medal position, leaving Andrade with the silver and Melnikova with the bronze
Her victory in the all-around has more than proven her ability to perform when it really matters however – a skill that she also made very clear during the team final, when she stepped up to fill Biles’ shoes on the floor, having only intended to compete on the bars and beam.
Lee’s all-around win came just one day after Biles announced that she was withdrawing from the competition and would not be defending her Olympic title, amid ongoing struggles with her mental health, which she has hinted are related to the ongoing trauma of the abuse she endured at the hands of Nassar, who is currently serving a 175-year prison sentence.
The gymnast broke her silence hours after the news was shared, when she thanked her fans for their ‘support and love’, noting that her fans have helped her to realize ‘she is more than gymnastics’.
‘The outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before,’ Biles tweeted on Wednesday night.
Biles stunned spectators and athletes alike in Tuesday’s team final when she flubbed her vault – her first skill – by bailing out of a skill mid-air, completing just one-and-a-half twists instead of the intended two-and-a-half, an error that saw her earn an uncharacteristically low score of just 13.766.
Moments later, it was announced that she was pulling out of the lineup altogether, leaving her three teammates, Lee, Jordan Chiles, 20, and Grace McCallum, 18, to try and overtake their Russian rivals without her. While the trio of first-time Olympians put on a bold fight – at one point narrowing the gap between themselves and the Russian Olympic Committee to just a few tenths of a point – they ultimately ended up in silver medal position.
Biles thanked her fans for their ‘love and support’ after her shock withdrawal from the individual all-around final at the Tokyo Olympics in a tweet on Wednesday
Back-up: She was joined by her teammates, who happily posed for photos with the superstar as they prepared to cheer on Team USA’s athletes
Let’s go girls: Carey and Lee were both considered strong contenders for a medal in the competition – with Lee qualifying for the final in third place, behind Biles and Andrade
The gymnast managed to forge ahead into the gold medal position after the third rotation, during which she racked up a strong score of 13.833 on the beam
Fighter: Carey struggled on the bars and her resulting score of 13.5 saw her drop down into sixth place – before she eventually fell to eighth overall in the final standings
Carey came off the beam during her routine, a mistake that likely cost her any chance at a medal, and left her with a very low score of 11.533
Commentary: Biles was seen chatting about the competition with Skinner, with the two women keeping a close eye on the gymnasts as they showed off their skills
Chiles, who is the gymnast’s best friend and home gym teammate, also provided support
Biles later hinted that the horrific sexual abuse she endured at the hands of pedophile doctor Larry Nassar is behind the mental health issues that prompted her shock withdrawal.
Will Biles continue ANY of her individual quests for gold? Gymnast’s finals thrown into doubt
After her shock withdrawal from the team final and tomorrow’s individual all-round, Simone Biles’ future at the Tokyo Olympics is in serious doubt.
She is still scheduled to take part in the finals for the vault, uneven bars, floor exercise, and balance beam.
Should she choose to take part – and provided she gets the all-clear from USA Gymnastics – Biles’ upcoming events schedule is:
- SUNDAY, AUGUST 1: Vault final and uneven bars final
- MONDAY, AUGUST 2: Floor exercise final
- TUESDAY, AUGUST 3: Balance beam final
Biles struggled in qualifying for these events, ending up in the eighth and final spot for uneven bars, the sixth spot for balance beam, and the second spot on floor exercise.
The 24-year-old drew a line between the trauma of Nassar’s abuse and her decision to pull out of both the team and individual all-around medal events for the first time when she retweeted a statement of support from a fellow gymnast – who hit out at critics of the sporting superstar, while reminding the world that Biles was ‘molested by her team doctor throughout her entire childhood’.
‘We are talking about the same girl who was molested by her team doctor throughout her entire childhood and teenage years,’ the statement, which was written by former gymnast-turned-fitness trainer Andrea Orris, read.
It continued: ‘That girl has endured more trauma by the age of 24 than most people will ever go through in a lifetime.’
Although Biles, who was seen for the first time since the announcement when she stepped out to cheer on Team USA’s male gymnasts in Tokyo on Wednesday, did not issue her own statement about Nassar or her decision to pull out of the all-around, a US official told DailyMail.com that Orris’ message ‘sums up everything Simone is feeling and wants to say’.
The source continued: ‘The fact that Simone has retweeted it, shows that she agrees with every word that’s been said on her behalf.’
Biles, who has been incredibly outspoken in her criticism of USAG’s handling of the Nassar scandal, and her struggle to deal with the resulting trauma of his abuse, did not share her own statement – instead allowing the news to be shared by the organization that she has so frequently blasted for ‘failing’ to protect its gymnasts from the pedophile doctor.
‘After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games, in order to focus on her mental health,’ the statement read.
‘Simone will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether or not to participate in next week’s individual event finals. We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many.’
Biles is one of more than 150 gymnasts who were abused by Nassar, the former national team doctor, during his 30-year career, and in 2019, she revealed that the trauma of the assaults had left her struggling with suicidal thoughts.
At the time, she admitted that she was ‘sleeping all the time’ because it was ‘the closest thing to death’, while revealing that she was undergoing therapy in order to deal with the abuse.
Biles has yet to announce whether she plans to take part in the other four individual event finals that she qualified for: vault, uneven bars, floor exercise and balance beam.
If she chooses to take part, the gymnast will return to the Ariake arena as a competitor rather than a spectator for the first time since the team final on Sunday, when the vault and uneven bars finals are scheduled to take place.
Biles (pictured on Wednesday in Tokyo) hinted that the abuse she suffered at the hands of pedophile doctor Larry Nassar is behind the mental health issues that pushed her to withdraw from the team and individual all-around finals
The 24-year-old revealed in 2018 that she was one of more than 150 gymnasts abused by the former national team doctor (right) during his 30-year career and she later admitted that the trauma of the abuse left her suffering with suicidal thoughts
Simone’s decision to pull out of the competition came just moments after she suffered a very uncharacteristic stumble on the vault
The 24-year-old – who had been expected to lead the US to gold in the team event – withdrew from the lineup after flubbing her vault in the opening minutes of the team final
She also qualified for spots in Monday’s floor exercise final and Tuesday’s balance beam final.
If she chooses to withdraw from all competitions, her spots in those finals will be handed to other athletes – including her US teammate Skinner, who would take over her place in the vault final.
Skinner narrowly missed out on a place in the vault final because of the two-athlete-per-country rule – despite finishing in fourth place in the qualifying round, behind Biles, Carey, and Andrade. Should Biles choose to pull out of the event, Skinner would be next in line to take her spot – just as Carey has now done for the all-around final.
Before Biles’ Olympic future was thrown into doubt, Skinner had expressed her ‘heartbreak’ over her failure to qualify for any individual finals, which meant that her competition ended after the first day of events.
In the other event finals, Biles’ spot would be handed to athletes from other countries; on the uneven bars, she would likely be replaced by French athlete Mélanie de Jesus dos Santos, while Japan’s Urara Ashikawa would be given a chance on the balance beam. British gymnast Jennifer Gadirova, who helped to propel her team to a surprise bronze medal finish in Tuesday’s competition, is next in line to compete in the floor exercise.
It is currently unclear when Biles will announce her decision about whether or not to compete; the news about her withdrawal from the all-around competition came a little more than 24 hours before it was due to begin, suggesting that she may well wait until Friday or Saturday before confirming her participation in Sunday’s vault and uneven bars events.
Meet gymnastics’ new queen: How 18-year-old Team USA star Sunisa Lee overcame her refugee father’s 2019 accident that left him paralyzed to claim GOLD in women’s all-around in Tokyo
- Sunisa, 18, took gold in the all-around women’s final at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics today
- The Minnesota resident is the youngest member of Team USA and the first Hmong-American to represent the United States at the Olympics
- She previously won gold at the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart
- The star gymnasts’ parents were both refugees from Laos
- Her father, John Lee, fell while trimming tree branches in 2019 and suffered a spinal cord injury that left him partially paralyzed
By CARLY STERN FOR DAILYMAIL.COM
As Sunisa Lee celebrates her gold medal win in the women’s gymnastics all-around final today, the Team USA star has become an instant household name — but who is the 18-year-old gymnast who took the top spot in her first-ever Olympics Games?
Sunisa, who hails from Minnesota, is the daughter of Laotian refugees who fled the country in the wake of the Vietnam War — and she’s also the first Hmong-American to represent the United States at the Olympics.
Her road to the Games wasn’t an easy one, with the star persevering through personal tragedy after her father was paralyzed in a freak accident in 2019 that left him in a wheelchair.
But both of her parents, who were unable to accompany her to the Games due to COVID rules, excitedly cheered her on from home as she bested the competition on Thursday, with her mother moved to tears when Sunisa was announced as the winner.
Sunisa grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where her family settled to pursue the American dream.
At just 18 years old, Sunisa Lee — who just graduated from high school — is the youngest member of the US gymnastics team
Sunisa (far left) is pictured with her teammates in matching outfits at the Olympic Village
Both of her parents, Houa John Lee and Yeev Thoj, were born in Laos and are members of the Hmong ethnic group. During the Vietnam War, the Hmong were recruited to fight alongside American forces to stave off communism — and they paid a heavy price.
About 50,000 Hmong civilians were killed in all, with about 25 per cent of all Hmong men killed in combat. Many were killed by their own government after US forces withdrew, leading many remaining Hmong to flee for their safety.
According to a feature in Minnesota’s Star Tribune, her mother and father were still children when their families fled Laos in the ’70s, ending up first in refugee camps in Thailand.
‘When the U.S. pulled out of Laos, the war wasn’t over,’ her father explained. ‘People had to go to Thailand for their safety, and for a chance to have a better life.’
They weren’t allowed to settle in Thailand, though, and in 1979, when Sunisa’s dad was eight years old, his family emigrated to the US.
‘We know they did it for a reason, so they could be safe and their kids could have a good life,’ Sunisa said of her grandparents’ reasons for fleeing. ‘It’s something very cool for my generation to know they did that for us. And it was all worth it.’
They ultimately made their way to Minnesota, home to about 80,000 Hmong people — who see her as their ‘ambassador to the world.’
Her parents met as adults in Minnesota. According to ESPN, John is not Sunisa’s biological father. He was a divorced dad of two children, Jonah and Shyenne, when he met Sunisa’s mom, Yeev — who was then a single mom to two-year-old Sunisa.
But the pair clearly bonded, with Sunisa choosing to legally change her last name to Lee.
Sunisa — known as Suni to friends and family — is one of five siblings in all, including sisters Shyenne and Evionn and brothers Jonah, Lucky, and Noah.
The star’s parents (pictured with her father) are both Laotian refugees who fled the country as children in the wake of the Vietnam war
Her father, John Lee, has been partially paralyzed since a freak fall in 2019
Her dad also suffered from fractured ribs and a broken wrist when he sustained a spinal cord injury in 2019
As a young girl, she became enchanted by gymnastics after watching videos on YouTube, telling the New York Times: ‘Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It looked so fun, and I wanted to try it myself.’
She would flip and tumble around the family’s home, even swinging from metal bars holding up a clothesline in the backyard. When she was six, her parents signed her up for classes at Midwest Gymnastics Center in Little Canada, where she still trains today with coaches Jess Graba and Alison Lim, who own the gym.
‘She was a very active kid, always tumbling around,’ her aunt, Cecelia Lee, told the Star Tribune. ‘But who would have known it would lead to this?’
As she got better, her dad built her a wooden balance beam she could use to practice at home, making it himself because the family couldn’t afford a real one.
She has managed to stay focused even as tragedy struck her family.
In 2019, her dad was trimming a neighbor’s tree branches when he fell to the ground, suffering grave injuries including fractured ribs, a broken wrist, and worst of all, a spinal cord injury.
He remains partially paralyzed and wheelchair-bound.
But even as her parents were forced to stay home as their daughter flew to Tokyo — where the Olympics have banned all family members of athletes — they’ve still showed her endless support.
Her father reportedly gives her pep talks before every competition, and has been doing so over FaceTime during the Olympics.
Her mother, meanwhile, cheers her on even as she struggles to watch.
‘I get so nervous,’ she said. ‘My heart beats so fast. At the Olympic trials, she did so well, I was in tears every time she finished an event.’
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