She is known as an uneven bars specialist, but Sunisa “Suni” Lee has proven to the world she is unshakeable and can excel at all four categories in women’s gymnastics — and the global spotlight — with poise, strength, and agility. At only 19 years old, Lee has a long list of accomplishments to be proud of. Her impressive skill set paired with a grace-under-pressure performance during the 2020 Olympic Games earned her this year’s WSF Individual Sportswoman of the Year award.
Lee’s story is more than just triumph, it’s one of representation. She is the first Hmong American to compete in an Olympic Games, a historic moment that has given a voice to a community that she says often goes unseen. She is also a first-generation American who dedicates her success to her parents, especially her dad, who have made countless sacrifices to fuel her dream of being an Olympic gymnast.
One of the most talked-about moments of the Games was the way Lee rose to an unexpected challenge. She put her talents on full display when she quickly filled in during the team competition following Simone Biles’ withdrawal, which drew global attention. Lee said it was the most pressure she had ever felt, but she went on to fearlessly nail her bar and floor routines, helping the team win silver. Two days later she took home the esteemed gold medal as the all-around champion, making her the fifth consecutive American to win gold in the category. She also clinched a bronze medal in uneven bars.
There were many moments leading into the Olympic Games that showcased the young gymnast’s perseverance, grit and determination. She has overcome many obstacles, including ankle and foot injuries and deeply personal struggles to make it to sport’s biggest stage. In 2019, her dad, John Lee, fell off a ladder, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. Two days later, she went on to win silver at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships and later in the year, she won three medals at the World Championships. Soon after, she earned the second guaranteed team spot for Tokyo, her dad serving as inspiration even amid his own challenging recovery — pushing her to keep doing what she loved.
Born and raised in Minnesota, Lee’s journey has now taken her to Alabama, where she is in her sophomore year at Auburn University. So far her budding collegiate career has gotten off to a great start. She was crowned balance beam champion and placed second in the all-around at the 2022 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships. She also was named the 2022 Southeastern Conference (SEC) uneven bars champion and SEC Freshman of the Year.
From the start of each routine to her dismount, you can’t help but watch Lee in awe as she makes the hardest skills look effortless. As she continues to compete, she hopes to inspire and empower her peers and the next generation to work hard toward their passions and achieve their dreams, like her dad did for her.