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Hmong-American, Sunisa Lee prevents USA from losing gold streak after Simone Biles withdraws

olympic gold

Simone Biles out, but not Gold, Thanks to Sunisa Lee At Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Magazine, The Immigrant Experience

In the women’s Olympic gymnastics all-around, Sunisa Lee finished at the top of the podium and won the United States gold.

With a score of 57.433, Lee won the gold medal ahead of Brazilian Rebecca Andrade, who scored 57.298 and won silver while the Russian Olympic Committee’s gymnast, Angelina Melnikova scored 57.199 and took bronze.

This historical victory made her the fifth American woman to win an Olympic title after edging out Brazilian Rebeca Andrade in an entertaining and hotly contested final.

When the defending champion Simone Biles, who watched the final from the stands, had dropped out of the competition, Americans had almost lost their hopes for winning the gold.

However, Lee – who just completed her graduation, was competing for the Olympic title for the first time – preserved the USA’s 17-year streak of taking gold in the women’s individual all-around.

24-year-old Simone Biles – who won every major international title since 2013 apart from the 2017 world championship – had withdrawn from the vault and uneven bar apparatus finals at the Tokyo Olympics citing mental illness.

Lee made history by becoming the first Hmong-American gymnast to compete at the Olympics and also becoming the first Hmong-American gymnast to win gold. The 18-year-old was the sixth American star to win an Olympic all-around gold; first won by Mary Lou Retton in 1984, then by Carly Patterson (2004), Nastia Lukin (2008), Gabby Douglas (2012), Simone Biles (2016), and now by Lee.

Lee’s Road to Olympic Gold

It wasn’t as easy as it appears for Lee to be able to win the Olympic gold. Lee has been challenged both physically and personally for the past two years. Her father, John, fell off a ladder in St. Paul, Minnesota, just before the 2019 national championships and paralyzed from the chest down. She had to look after her paralyzed father while training for the games.

Besides this devastating tragedy, she also had to mourn the death of her aunt and uncle, who used to babysat her as a kid. Moreover, her broken foot and Covid-19 pandemic created another barrier. These events made her feel that she won’t be able to get out of this depressing phase.

However, nothing could stop Lee from making her dream come true. Not even the injury of her father, the demise of her two close family members, her broken foot, naked racism against her Hmong community, or covid itself. She found the best version of herself under such intense circumstances and got herself together to make her country and her Hmong community proud by bringing the gold home.

Her Hmong background 

Lee was born in the Twin Cities, the largest Hmong-populated city in the US. Her parents immigrated to the city from Laos before she was born. Hmong is a displaced ethnic group living in hilly areas of China, Laos, and Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, Hmong people sided with the US and suffered heavy losses. After the war, many Hmong that remained in Laos, including Lee’s family, were conscripted into forced labor and interned.

The Hmong hold an important place in US history as hundreds of them had joined the CIA’s Secret Army in Laos to fight alongside the US forces. In the 1970s, Hmong started to seek refuge in the US from the bombings and killings in Laos. The number of refugees surged over the years. Currently more than 66,000 are living in Minnesota alone.

The majority of Hmong Americans live in poverty, and are facing ehtnic-based discrimination and violence. “People hate on us for no reason,” Lee told a media outlet, adding, “It would be cool to show that we are more than what they say. I don’t know how to explain that…” and she did show it to Americans in a quite befitting way.

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