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Suni Lee wins bronze in bars despite rare mistakes, adding to gold and silver medals

Uneven bars are considered one of Lee’s specialties, but the young gymnast made a few uncharacteristic slip ups in Tokyo on Sunday.
Sunisa Lee of the United States performs on the uneven bars during the artistic gymnastics women's apparatus final at the Tokyo Olympics on Aug. 1, 2021.
Sunisa Lee of the United States performs on the uneven bars during the artistic gymnastics women's apparatus final at the Tokyo Olympics on Aug. 1, 2021.Ashley Landis / AP

American gymnast Suni Lee clinched a bronze medal in uneven bars Sunday, following a few rare errors in what was considered one of her strongest events.

Lee, who earned gold at the Tokyo Olympics individual all-around, missed a few connections during her bars routine in the event final. Despite the flaws in her program, Lee scored a 14.500 and secured Team USA third place on the leaderboard.

Uneven bars are typically Lee’s strong suit and she previously earned a 15.300 in her qualifications and all-around at the tournament. MyKayla Skinner won silver on the vault with a score of 14.916.

The bronze adds a third medal for Lee’s Olympic debut, following Team USA’s silver medal and her own gold-medal performance in the individual all-around.

Lee, an 18-year-old from Minnesota, drew international praise for her performance last week after Olympic-favorite Simone Biles stepped back from the competition. Biles pulled out of the team all-around final Tuesday after struggling on her first routine and then withdrew ahead of Thursday's individual all-around final to focus on her mental health.

Biles also pulled out of Sunday’s floor competition as she has been struggling with a phenomenon called the “twisties,” where athletes lose their sense of space and dimension in midair.

Lee had the third highest all-around score in qualifying for all-around, behind Biles and Brazil's Rebeca Andrade. Her performance in the finals was history making, as Lee became the first Asian American woman to win gold in the Olympics’ all-around competition.

Her father, John Lee, told NBC’s “Today” show that he was excited to watch his daughter compete, although it had to be from afar back in the U.S. due to Covid safety protocols. He said that her family and their tight-knit Hmong community were very proud of her accomplishments.

“As I watch her, I’ll be thinking, ‘If she brings home a couple of medals, hopefully a couple of gold, I mean, that would be so great for the family, the community, and for USA’,” John said.

Lee’s Olympic dreams being realized drew international attention to her own inspiring story. Two days before Lee competed in the 2019 U.S. National Gymnastics Championships, her father fell off a ladder while helping a neighbor trim a tree and was paralyzed from the chest down.

She almost pulled out of the competition but her father encouraged her to take the opportunity to show her talent, even FaceTiming her from his hospital bed. Lee said her father “sacrificed everything” to help her achieve her dreams.

He even built her own balance beam to help her with her training in their backyard because they couldn’t afford to buy one.

"I wish he was here," she said after her win on Thursday. "He always told me if I win the gold medal he would come out on the ground and do a backflip. It's sad that he can't be here, but this is our dream and this our medal."