Sunisa Lee won the Olympic all-around title Thursday night, the fifth consecutive American woman to claim gymnastics’ biggest prize.
Lee won the Olympic all-around title Thursday night, the fifth consecutive American woman (and sixth overall) to claim gymnastics’ biggest prize, joining Carly Patterson, Nastia Liukin, Gabby Douglas and Biles as Olympic gold medalists, Lee’s victory provided a bright spot in what has been a tough week for the U.S. women.
Biles was heavily favored to become the first woman in more than a half-century – Czechoslovakia’s Vera Caslavska in 1968, for you trivia buffs – to repeat as Olympic champion, having not lost an all-around competition since 2013. But she withdrew from Tuesday night’s team competition after one event, citing mental health concerns.
The Americans still won the silver medal, but it was the first time since 2010 that they had failed to claim gold at the world championships or Olympics.
GET TO KNOW THE CHAMP: More to know about Suni Lee
Lee kept the streak of all-around titles alive, however. When she saw that she had won, Lee’s eyes filled with tears and she exchanged a big hug with her coach, Jess Graba. Biles and the rest of the U.S. team, sitting in the stands on the opposite side of the arena, serenaded her with applause.
Lee finished with a score of 57.433, 0.135 ahead of Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade. Russia’s Angelina Melnikova claimed the bronze. Jade Carey, who took Biles’ spot in the all-around, finished eighth.
Lee’s journey to Tokyo has been bittersweet. Just days before the national championships in 2019, her father, John, was partially paralyzed after falling off a ladder while cutting down a tree. Lee decided to go ahead and compete, and she finished second to Biles.
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But her father’s accident has been tough on Lee and her entire family. He continues to use a wheelch, and he and Lee’s mother and some of her siblings drove from the Twin Cities to Fort Worth, Texas, and then St. Louis to watch her compete at the national championships and Olympic trials.
Like all other families, they had to watch the Olympics from home, but what a show Lee put on for them.
Trailing Andrade after the first event, vault, Lee showed on uneven bars that Biles is not the only American with gold-medal potential. She is one of the best in the world on the event, with both a crazy-difficult and a slightly-less-crazy-difficult routine.
She went for the crazy-difficult one and it was flawless. Biles and the rest of the U.S. team could be heard yelling, “C’mon! C’mon!” as she flitted between the bars like a hummingbird. When she dismounted, her landing so solid her legs didn’t even wiggle, the Americans screaming.
Lee had a small smile on her face as she slapped hands with Graba – as she should have. Her 15.3 put her just 0.066 behind Andrade.
Lee leaned way back on one of her turns on balance beam, and it’s a wonder she didn’t come off. But she stayed on, and the rest of her routine was solid enough to move her into first.
Lee has been bothered for months by an Achilles injury, and she had watered down her floor routine at nationals and trials because of it. She added a fourth tumbling pass here in Tokyo, but she hadn’t been as clean as she normally is in either qualifying or team finals.
On Thursday night, she opted to take that pass out. Though that gave Lee less difficulty, her execution more than made up for it. Her tumbling passes were huge, and she stuck her landings as if she’d stepped on flypaper.
She looked serious as she came off the podium, knowing she’d been solid but, with Andrade still to go, not knowing whether it would be enough. But Andrade stepped out of bounds on her first pass and again on her third, erasing any chance she had of catching Lee.
Lee was the new all-around champion, continuing the U.S. women’s golden tradition.