Sunisa Lee wins women’s gymnastics all-around gold

Olympics

TOKYO (AP) — Sunisa Lee became the fifth straight American woman to claim the Olympic title in the women’s all-around. She edged Rebeca Andrade of Brazil in an entertaining and hotly contested final while Simone Biles watched from the stands.

Lee’s total of 57.433 points was just enough to top Andrade. The Brazilian earned the first gymnastics all-around medal by a Latin American athlete but missed out on gold when she stepped out of bounds twice during her floor routine.

Russian gymnast Angelina Melnikova earned bronze two days after leading ROC to gold in the team final.

Sunisa Lee, of the United States, embraces her coach Jeff Graba after performing on the uneven bars during the artistic gymnastics women’s all-around final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 29, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Lee and the Americans earned a silver in that event, one in which Biles withdrew after one rotation when she decided she was not mentally prepared to compete. Biles pulled out of the competition on Wednesday to focus on her mental health.

The 24-year-old Biles’ absence created an opportunity the 24 women who took the floor at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre probably didn’t think possible when they landed in Tokyo earlier this month: a legitimate shot at the top of the podium. Biles had captured every major international competition since 2013 except the 2017 world championships, which came during the year she took off after her triumph in Rio de Janeiro five years ago.

Yet if Lee, Andrade and the rest of the contenders were nervous, it hardly showed. Andrade’s near-perfect Cheng vault gave her an early lead, but Lee used her spectacular uneven bars set — the hardest one currently being done in competition — to pull closer.

From left, United States’ gymnast Grace McCallum, Jordan Chiles, Simone Biles and MyKayla Skinner celebrate after teammate Sunisa Lee won the gold medal for the artistic gymnastics women’s all-around final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 29, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Lee, an 18-year-old Hmong-American from Minnesota, gutted her way through a nervy beam routine. She nearly came off while executing a wolf turn — basically a seated spin — and basically needed to suction cup her toes to the 4-inch slab of wood to stay on. Her score of 13.833 moved her in front of Andrade heading into the floor exercise.

Going first, Lee opted for a routine with three tumbling passes instead of four, hoping better execution would override any potential tenths she gave up by not doing a fourth pass. Her 13.700 was steady, but it left an opening for Andrade.

The 21-year-old Brazilian, two years removed from a third surgery to repair a torn ACL in her knee, had the best floor score of the contenders during qualifying. Yet she bounded out of bounds with both feet at the end of her first tumbling pass. And her right foot stepped off the white mat and onto the surrounding blue carpet.

TOKYO, JAPAN – JULY 29: Sunisa Lee of Team United States competes on uneven bars during the Women’s All-Around Final on day six of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 29, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Needing a 13.802 to win, she received a 13.666 instead, extending the U.S. dominance in one of the marquee events at the Olympics. The Americans have won each of the Olympic finals since Carly Patterson triumphed at the 2004 Athens Games.

Biles was heavily favored to extend that streak before opting out. Lee, who dealt with ankle injuries so painful she was limping at times during the U.S. championships last month, stepped into the void. She actually beat Biles during the second night of the Olympic Trials at the end of June.

Sunisa Lee had wanted to quit during quarantine.

It all had become too much. The lingering pain from a broken foot. The deaths of two family members from COVID-19. Her father’s slow recovery from an accident that left him paralyzed.

The urge eventually passed. It always does. Still, less than two months ago the 18-year-old gymnast hobbled around the podium at the U.S. championships, getting by more on grit than anything else.

A month later, she found herself standing atop the podium as one of the new faces of a sport that is becoming increasingly diverse in the U.S. She is the third straight woman of color to grab Olympic gold for the Americans, joining Biles in 2016 and Gabby Douglas in 2012.

Jade Carey, who replaced Biles in the finals for the U.S. team, finished ninth.

The last non-American to win was Simona Amanar of Romania in Sydney in 2000.

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