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Suni Lee steps up

We love to look for heroes in the Olympics. Every four years athletes who have been dedicating themselves to training and competition don the colors of their various countries and see who is the best.

This year Americans were counting on Simone Biles, considered the greatest gymnast of all time, to be a hero, to bring back the gold in the women’s all around and lead the U.S team to victory. We all know how years of trying to meet high expectations became too much for Biles this week, forcing her to withdraw.

But another hero was ready to step in. Suni Lee of St. Paul, who had been Biles’ top competitor all through Olympic qualifying, stepped up and won the all-around gold medal Thursday in a tight, highly competitive matchup with Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade.

Lee’s performance is heroic under any circumstances, but her ability to perform her best under the unusual circumstances this week make it that much more remarkable.

Indeed, the circumstances of the past couple of years have made this, as she put it, “not like real life.” An injury in a tree trimming accident paralyzed her father in 2019. She lost an aunt and an uncle in the COVID pandemic, which also delayed the Olympics and closed the gym she usually trained at. She suffered a broken foot which pained her through the Olympic qualifying competitions. She has a lot of grit.

Lee has given pride to so many — to her family, to Minnesotans, and especially to the Hmong American community. She is the first Hmong American to make the U.S. Olympic team, and here she is, the gold medalist in one of the most prestigious events in the games.

These will always be remembered as the Olympics that should have belonged to Simone Biles, and she will always be remembered for her courage in pulling out under the most intensive pressure and shining a light on the issues of mental health. And the games will always be remembered as Suni Lee’s gold medal year.

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