Sunisa Lee did it.
With the performance of a lifetime, she has etched her name in Olympics history.
She is forever an Olympic champion.
The Auburn gymnastics signee won gold in the individual all-around final on Thursday, going big on the grand stage and winning United States gymnastics the top prize.
Winning the all-around at the Olympics is the greatest individual achievement in gymnastics.
“It’s just so surreal and I haven’t let it sink in yet,” she said to reporters in Tokyo.
Lee came up clutch after Team USA ace Simone Biles scratched from the individual all-around. With Biles out, America’s chances to medal in all-around suddenly dwindled — until Lee emerged into superstardom and brought it all back.
She scored a strong 13.700 on the floor in the final moments with the world watching.
Lee is 18 years old and from St. Paul, Minn., and she is signed to go to college at Auburn University and compete for the Tigers. In Minnesota, local reporters shared video of her family jumping for joy Tuesday morning watching her achieve the unbelievable.
It’s been a long journey for Lee: The Olympics were originally scheduled for 2020 before they were pushed back last summer as COVID-19 spread across the world. When she got back into the gym later in 2020, she broke her foot and had to battle back from that.
Her father, John, threw his arms in the air in celebration. Her gymnastics setbacks have been dwarfed by family tragedy: John was left partially paralyzed after an accident in 2019. Then Lee’s aunt and uncle died with COVID-19 last year.
But on one magic morning, the family got to see Lee achieve a lifelong dream.
“The past two years have been absolutely crazy with COVID and just my family and everything else,” Lee opened up to reporters in Tokyo. “This medal definitely means a lot to me because there was a point in time where I wanted to quit, and I just didn’t think I would ever get here, including injuries and stuff.
“There are definitely a lot of emotions but I’m super proud of myself for sticking with it and believing in myself, because this medal would not be possible without my coaches, the medical team, my parents.”
It’s Lee’s second medal at the Olympics. She won silver with Team USA on Tuesday in the team final.
Lee started Tuesday’s all-around in a pressure-packed situation as the first to go on vault on the first rotation. She nailed it, scoring a 14.600 to keep in contention early.
On bars, she overcame wobbly moments early in the routine to score a big 15.300. Almost everyone in the top group struggled on beam on the day. Lee recovered after losing balance on a triple wolf turn, but regrouped and ultimately scored a cool 13.833 on beam.
Lee signed her national letter intent in December to compete for Auburn University. She rose through the ranks in gymnastics in Minnesota coached by Jess Graba, the twin brother of Auburn gymnastics head coach Jeff Graba.
“When it comes to this pressure, I talk to my teammates, and to my coach,” Lee said. “He helps me through everything. Also I just talk to myself, because I know what I’m capable of. And I knew that I had to hit the best routines of my life to get here, so I just stayed focused and I just try not to think about winning a medal or anything like that.
“Because, either way, I would’ve been proud of myself for competing here.”
She came up gold.
Lee still has opportunities to win more medals: She enters the individual event finals for bars and beam later in the week. She will be a top contender for gold in the bars final.
“What a fantastic day!” Jeff Graba said in a statement. “I am so proud of Suni and my brother Jess on all they’ve achieved through this journey.
“This is truly a monumental achievement and for Auburn to be a part of it is so awesome. Congrats Suni and War Eagle!”
Lee won all-around with a final score of 57.433. She bested Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade, who won silver with a 57.298. Russia’s Angelina Melnikova won bronze with a 57.199.