Team USA’s Suni Lee won gold in the women’s individual all-around gymnastics finals on Thursday, defending the title despite the absence of the team’s reigning champion, Simone Biles.
An American has now won each of the last five Olympic titles.
Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade won silver, the country’s first medal in women’s gymnastics. And Russian athlete Angelina Melnikova won the bronze.
Lee, who is 18 and from Minnesota, is the first Hmong American to compete in the Olympics. Her father said Thursday on NBC’s “TODAY” show that he, his wife and the “whole community” watched together and “hold their breath” as she participated.
“I know she’s excited and happy, and we’re so proud of her,” said John Lee.
He has previously said he couldn’t afford a balance beam when his daughter was a kid, so he built one for her in the backyard.
He sat in the stands watching her secure her spot for the Tokyo Olympics in June during the Olympic trials.
It was one of the few times he’s seen his daughter compete in person since he fell off a ladder in 2019 — two days before Lee competed in the U.S. National Gymnastics Championships — and was paralyzed from the chest.
She considered skipping the championships, but her father forced her to continue.
Lee also won silver at the Tokyo Games in the team final on Tuesday.
Biles’ decision to pull out of that event and Thursday’s to focus on her mental health loomed over Tokyo’s Ariake Gymnastics Center as the Olympics continued with one of the leading stars on the sidelines.
Lee was joined in the final by Jade Carey, who replaced Biles, finishing eighth on Thursday.
Lee had the third highest all-around score during the qualifying round behind Biles and Andrade. Carey had the ninth highest score.
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While Biles’ absence was felt on the floor of the arena, her decision to step back on Tuesday to focus on her emotional well-being continued to have an impact on the sporting world.
They said on Twitter that “the outpouring of love and support I have received has made me realize that I am more than my achievements and gymnastics that I never really believed before.
Biles, 24, will be “evaluated daily” to determine whether or not she should compete in next week’s individual finals, according to a statement from USA Gymnastics.
In a meeting with NBC News reporters, two of Biles’ teammates, Grace McCallum and Jordan Chiles, expressed support for their teammate and said they are persevering.
“It was a crazy, crazy ride,” Chiles said, noting that due to a pandemic they have had to train and compete in locations where no one is encouraging them because there is a state of emergency in Tokyo and no fans are allowed on the stand.