Sunisa Lee’s next stop after the Olympics is Auburn University.
The Auburn gymnastics signee won all-around gold on Thursday in Tokyo, shining in the spotlight on the world’s stage.
Her next step after Team USA is joining the Auburn Tigers.
Auburn gymnastics head coach Jeff Graba confirmed Thursday that Lee is enrolled at Auburn University for the fall.
Lee appears in the university’s public online student finder.
Lee is an 18-year-old native of St. Paul, Minn. She rose through the ranks in gymnastics in Minnesota coached by Jess Graba, the twin brother of the Auburn gymnastics head coach.
She signed her national letter of intent with Auburn last December.
“One of the best athletes in the world — not just gymnasts in the world, one of the best athletes in the world — has chosen to come to Auburn,” Jeff Graba said on Zoom on Thursday.
Lee affirmed to the national media before going to the Olympics that going to compete in college is what she wanted to do after. She has sent shoutouts Auburn’s team on social media from Tokyo as the current Tigers cheered her on stateside.
If any Auburn fan was left wondering if Lee’s arrival would be too good to be true, Jeff Graba reaffirmed Thursday that the plan is still full go.
New name, image and likeness rules put into place July 1 for the NCAA helps make her decision to compete in college possible — and Jeff Graba said the Auburn compliance department has already been working with her.
“Suni in the past would have had to go pro. There’s just no doubt,” he said. “And she would have had to make that horrible decision.”
The ‘decision’ he points to has come when gymnasts reach the national spotlight before college age, and have to choose between accepting endorsements and giving up their NCAA eligibility or turning them down and going to school. Jordyn Wieber famously won team gold with Team USA in 2012, then appeared on the Corn Flakes box. When she went to school at UCLA later, she was a team manager and volunteer assistant for the gymnastics team, coaching classmates her age because she wasn’t allowed to compete.
Now, there’s a new age in college sports.
Under new rules, she can accept endorsements as one of the most recognizable faces in the sport and still maintain her NCAA eligibility.
Her club coach and college coach keeping good communication helps, too. Jeff Graba said earlier the Graba twins plan to do whatever’s best for Lee during her time at Auburn, and plan her training around her goals. For example, if she plans to try to win the World Championships at the elite level in 2021, she can train in Auburn for that while still being a Tiger, and try make that happen. If she doesn’t aim for Worlds, she can compete for the NCAA national championship.
Depending on how things go, Lee could train toward a return to the Olympics in 2024 as a then-junior at Auburn.
With the Graba twins working in tandem to lay out her training to meet her goals, the plan is for Lee to continue to be able to compete at the elite level and in the NCAA.
“In her words, ‘I want it all. I want to be able to do everything,’” Jeff Graba explained. “Now she actually gets that shot.”