Sunisa Lee Clinches All-Around Gymnastics Gold Then Tearfully Celebrates with Team | PEOPLE
Sunisa Lee just flipped and tumbled her way to Olympic success.
Team USA gymnasts Lee and Jade Carey finished the women's gymnastics individual all-around in first and eighth place, respectively on Thursday at the Ariake Gymnastics Center.
Lee ended the competition with 57.433, just ahead of silver medalist Rebeca Andrade of Brazil's 57.298, and the Russian Olympic Committee's Angelina Melnikova, who finished with 57.199.
After her win, Lee — who finished on floor — beamed and wiped away tears of joy as she hugged Carey and her coaches. Heading into the Games, she was the first Hmong American Olympic gymnast and is now the first Hmong American Olympic gold medalist.
During the Tokyo Games' opening ceremony, Simone Biles told her fans and followers that the team — which includes herself, as well as Suni Lee, Jordan Chiles, and Grace McCallum, and individual competitors Jade Carey and MyKayla Skinner — moonlighted as one another's glam squad. Most, if not all, Olympians participating in the Japan-hosted games are doing their own hair and makeup.
"Yes, we do. So if we're looking busted mind your business LOL," Biles, 24, joked on her Instagram Story during a fan Q&A session.
Skinner, who did not qualify for any event finals and has since departed Tokyo to head home, tells PEOPLE about the squad's behind-the-scenes prep and "teamwork" off the competition floor. "I'm not very good at braiding backward. I can't even do this on my hair," Skinner says pointing to her double french braid. "Jordan just did it actually."
The 24-year-old Arizona native adds, "I can't braid my hair like this, because I'm just not good. I'm not good at braiding. It's hard. I've been having Jordan braid my hair because she's really good at it."
According to Skinner, Chiles, 20, was the go-to hair expert for Team USA. "Jordan's been helping out a bunch," she says. "She's done Suni's [hair], Simone's and mine. And I think Grace did Jade's braid."
"It's fun to have cute, fun braids," Skinner says of the squad's coordinated braided styles. "It's good that we have some girls on the team that know how to braid because I would be struggling."
For the Tokyo Games, international spectators — including the athlete's family and friends — were barred from attending any competitions due to COVID restrictions and protocols. "It is such a pain," Skinner says of not having close confidants to help with hair and makeup. "I feel like, especially being such great athletes that we are, it would be nice if someone could just come in, get us ready and make us look really good in front of the camera."
For several of the recent (and final) events in her elite career, Skinner depended on her "lifesavers" — her sister and friends — to do her hair.
"In college, we had a bunch of girls that could braid so they always did my hair. It's really fun to have other people get you ready because then I feel like you don't have to have that extra stress about it," she explains. "My sister was able to do my makeup for championships and trials, so that was really nice. I feel like I'm decent at makeup, but it's always nice to have someone pamper you."
The four-time Olympic gold medalist, 24, praised Sunisa Lee following the 18-year-old's gold medal win in the women's gymnastics individual all-around on Thursday.
"CONGRATS PRINCESS 🤍✨✨ absolutely killed it!!!" Biles wrote on Instagram alongside a photograph of the pair posing together after the team's silver medal win in the team final on Tuesday.
"OLYMPIC CHAMPION RIGHT HERE !!! So so so beyond proud of you!!!!" she added.
Biles went on to post another celebratory video on her Instagram Story showing a smiling Lee posing with her gold medal. "Yessssss bbbbbbbyyy the queen has arrived," she wrote alongside the sweet clip.
Biles was in the stands to support Lee and Jade Carey as they competed, after unexpectedly pulling out of the team and all-around events earlier this week, citing her mental health.
After a nearly flawless flour routine, Lee ended the competition with 57.433, enough to put her ahead of silver medalist Rebeca Andrade and the Russian Olympic Committee's Angelina Melnikova. Carey, who replaced Biles in the final, came in 8th.
American gymnast Sunisa Lee's gold medal in gymnastics Thursday makes her the first Hmong American to participate and win in the Olympics. Lee said she trains daily for first-generation Americans and wanted to win for Hmong Americans. John Yang reports on the reaction within the Hmong American community with Bo Thao-Urabe, founder and executive director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders.
When gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee stepped out on the global stage at the Tokyo Olympics, she wasn’t just representing Team USA. She was also representing the Hmong community around the world. And the world took notice when she soared to the top of the podium Thursday, winning the gold medal in the women’s all-around competition.
With her all-around gold medal, Lee became the first Asian American to claim that prestigious title and the fifth consecutive American woman to accomplish the feat, following in the footsteps of Carly Patterson at the 2004 Athens Games, Nastia Liukin in 2008, Gabby Douglas in 2012 and Simone Biles in 2016. Lee has now vaulted into the pantheon of legendary U.S. gymnasts.
Since the start of the Olympics, Google has reported a spike in search trends for “Hmong.”
Her win is being celebrated across the U.S., but it’s especially meaningful for the Hmong community. Lee, of St. Paul, Minn., is the first Hmong American Olympian.
Since the start of the Olympics, Google has reported a spike in search trends for “Hmong.” And among the top trending questions related to Lee after her all-around win was “What is Hmong descent?”
All of a sudden, Hmong people are center stage. People are finally interested in learning more about the Hmong community. Hmong people do not regularly see themselves in national media stories or celebrated as part of the national conversation. Lee has elevated a community that has for decades felt invisible and forgotten by America.
“I can’t find the words to express how happy we are, how important that was to me and my family and to the whole Hmong community throughout the world,” her father, John Lee, told The Associated Press.