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Sunisa Lee Wins Olympic Gold Individual All-Around Gymnastics Competition

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If you want to avoid an Olympic spoiler, turn off the radio now, but if you want the news, here it is. The United States is once again the Olympic champion in women's individual all-around gymnastics. Wow. Despite the absence of Simone Biles, her teammate Sunisa Lee kept the American streak alive. And NPR's Tom Goldman has been watching from Tokyo. Hey there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: He's here to spoil it for you.

INSKEEP: Well, OK. But it's exciting. It's amazing. I didn't see this coming after Simone Biles had to step away, but I suppose Sunisa Lee must have had it in her mind the whole time.

GOLDMAN: She was a contender, but of course, that's a relative term when Simone Biles is around, right, Steve? So she did win, 18 years old. Sunisa Lee, Suni Lee, from Minnesota. She won the gold. Rebecca Andrade of Brazil, the first-ever medal for Brazil in women's artistic gymnastics. She took the silver. And then the bronze went to Angelina Melnikova. she represents the team from the Russian Olympic Committee. Remember, we're not calling them Russia. We are calling them the Russia Olympic Committee. Now, Suni Lee is known for her great performances on the uneven bars, and she showed her greatness again, beating the other medal contenders with a routine that had the highest degree of difficulty. And then in the floor exercise, she clinched the win - didn't have the highest score in that event, but she scored high enough to secure the gold medal. And she said afterwards, it is such a surreal moment, it doesn't feel like real life.

INSKEEP: How did the competition change with Biles gone?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, well, I mean, everyone had to kind of recalibrate, you know, because they were playing for second, basically, with Simone Biles. And Lee talked about how she had to adjust her mindset before the event. Here she is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUNISA LEE: I just kind of like had to switch gears because, like I said, we were coming in to compete for second place. This whole season, I've been second to her, so I just did my best. Didn't focus on it, though, because I knew that I would get in my head and probably be really bad. But I stayed focused throughout the whole thing.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: She stayed focused through the whole thing, yeah.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Yeah. Now we have to get used to - get to know another gold medal winner. Tell us something about her.

GOLDMAN: Suni Lee is the first Hmong American to compete for the U.S. in the Olympics. She comes from a very close family in Minnesota. She's very close with her dad. In fact, she talked to her father in Minnesota before the event. She relies on him a lot for encouragement. And here's what she had to say about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEE: And he just told me to do what I normally do, go out there and do my best. He told me not to focus on the scores or anything like that because in their hearts, I was already a winner. And they were just so proud of me no matter what. So I just went out there and didn't focus on that. And I just did what I do best.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's great. That's great. So she gets the gold, the gold medal for the United States. Simone Biles stepped away from this individual competition, but might she still be out there at some point?

GOLDMAN: You know, we don't know, Steve. That's still to be determined. An encouraging tweet from Simone Biles today, and I'll read it to you. She said, (reading) the outpouring of love and support I've received has made me realize I'm more than my accomplishments in gymnastics, which I never truly believed before.

INSKEEP: Hey, Tom, thanks for your reporting, really appreciate it.

GOLDMAN: OK, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tom Goldman in Tokyo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.