Suni Lee doesn’t expect finishing ahead of Simone Biles to be anything other than an aberration. Like all other gymnasts, she knows Biles is in a division of her own.
But if making the U.S. team for the Tokyo Olympics weren’t enough for Lee to relish, she bested the sport’s greatest gymnast in the all-around on Sunday.
Lee, 18, locked up one of the two guaranteed spots for the team with her second-place finish in the two-day event. And it took an uncharacteristically human night from Biles – with a mistake on uneven bars, a fall on balance beam and a step out of bounds on each of her first two floor passes – for Lee to hold the advantage.
But in a year when she’s battled through an ankle injury to make the team, it was a welcome surprise.
“I think that gives me a lot of confidence, especially because I still haven’t done all four passes on floor and then my bar routine could have been a little bit better,” Lee said. “I know it probably won’t happen again because her floor and vault, and she usually is pretty good on everything else. But I was really excited.”
Biles still won the two-day competition by 2.266, but Lee’s all-around score Sunday marked the first time anyone had bested Biles in any phase of an all-around meet since 2013.
Lee showed why she’s a contender for gold on uneven bars, finishing first at trials. On Sunday, she combined crisp releases in a beautiful, flowing routine that gave her the highest bars score of the day.
A two-time U.S. champion on bars, Lee also has a world bronze on that apparatus.
The 15.300 she scored on her routine in the first day of competition was a meet and career high.
“I think it’s just a really proud moment overall because it’s such a hard bar routine and when it finally came together, it just felt like all my hard work paid off,” Lee said.
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Suni Lee competes in the floor exercise during the U.S. Gymnastics Olympic Trials at America’s Center in St Louis. (Photo: Carmen Mandato, Getty Images)
Lee also led the competition on balance beam, using a confident, clean routine to edge Biles – who has an Olympic bronze in the event. Though neither Lee nor Jordan Chiles had much reason to worry about making the team, Lee’s beam helped her secure the second guaranteed spot behind Biles.
Lee has struggled through an ankle injury that had left her with a noticeable limp when not competing as recently as three weeks ago. But if trials are any indicator, she and Chiles give the United States a shot at a second all-around Olympic medal in Tokyo.
Earlier this week, Lee said her ankle had been getting stronger with competition and she expected that to continue if she made the Olympic team.
“We’ve seen her get a little better each day even just while she was here,” said high performance coordinator Tom Forster.
The years leading up to the Olympics have been tumultuous for Lee. Her father, John, fell from a ladder while helping a friend trim a tree in August 2019, initially paralyzing him from the chest down. John Lee is doing electronic stimulation on his legs but remains in a wheelchair.
Days after her father’s accident, Suni Lee competed in nationals and finished second to Biles in the all-around. The competition established her as a contender for Tokyo, and she made the gold-medal winning team for world championships that year.
But John Lee has recovered enough to be able to travel and see his daughter compete, making the trip from the family’s home in St. Paul, Minnesota, to nationals earlier this month and trials this week.
This meet, the biggest of Lee’s career, came with the usual pep talk from her father.
“He basically just told me to go out there and do what I normally do – not too much, and not too little,” she said, “because what I’ve been doing has been working obviously.”
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