Jul 30, 2021 - Sports
Suni Lee, the pride of Minnesota
Suni Lee kisses her gold medal in Tokyo.
Suni Lee kisses her gold medal in Tokyo. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Sunisa Lee made Minnesota proud on Thursday, winning a gold medal in the women's Olympic all-around gymnastics competition.

  • So much so, that Gov. Tim Walz proclaimed Friday Sunisa Lee Day to celebrate.

Why it matters: Lee, who was already the first Hmong American to compete at the Olympics, is now the first Hmong American to win gold.

  • It's a remarkable victory for St. Paul, the Hmong community and the U.S. Olympic team, which was without medal favorite Simone Biles.

What she said: The 18-year-old told reporters she nearly quit after her dad, John, was partially paralyzed in a fall from a ladder two years ago.

  • "I definitely didn't think I'd be here in this moment with the gold medal. I definitely haven't let it sink in yet, as I feel like it's just not real life ... the past two years with COVID and my dad."

What they did: KARE 11 anchor Gia Vang — also a Hmong American — captured the reaction from Lee's family and friends at an Oakdale watch party. View it here.

Who is Suni? The athlete, who's from the east side of St. Paul, trained at Midwest Gymnastics in Little Canada and just graduated from South St. Paul High School.

  • This fall, she's headed to Auburn University, where she'll compete for the school's gymnastics team.

Between the lines: Lee is introducing many parts of the country to the Hmong culture, which is big in the Twin Cities and some other metros, but a mystery to large swaths of the U.S. and world.

  • There's been a spike in Google searches for "Hmong American."
  • "I woke up to the best news today," DFL state Rep. Samantha Vang of Brooklyn Center tweeted Thursday. "In the height of AAPI hate and the weight of the pandemic, (Sunisa Lee) gave us something to be proud of and remind our fellow Americans, we are a part of the fabric of the United States and we will continue to thrive."

What's ahead: Lee still has four more events that she could add to her medal count — with finals each day Sunday through Wednesday. Here's her schedule.

  • She's said her goal is to win gold or silver on bars and a medal of any color on beam.
  • This win puts Lee in rarified air — and sets her up to be the face of U.S. gymnastics at the 2024 Paris Olympics, Axios' Kendall Baker said.
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