TOKYO (AP) — The father of Sunisa Lee says he and his family are thrilled that the 18-year-old captured the women’s gymnastics all-around gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
The triumph Thursday delighted not only the Lees, but all of Minnesota, carrying special resonance in the state’s large and close-knit Hmong-American community.
“Sunisa being in the Olympics and winning the gold, I think people will maybe understand who the Hmongs are,” John Lee told The Associated Press in an interview from St. Paul.
The extended Lee family and friends had a large crowd for their watch party. There was dead silence as she performed her routines. But when Rebeca Andrade of Brazil stepped out of bounds twice during her floor routine, they knew that Sunisa Lee would bring home gold.
“Everybody was so nervous. And when we got to that last event, it was neck-to-neck going to that last event, and when she pulled it off, my mind, just, ‘Oh my God, is this really, is this real?'” John Lee said.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul area is home to one of the largest Hmong populations in the U.S. Many Hmong, who fought for the U.S. in Laos during the Vietnam War, fled afterward to refugee camps in Thailand and eventually resettled in Minnesota, Wisconsin and California.
Lee’s victory sparked an outpouring of Hmong pride across the community, and hopes of greater recognition. Many saw it as an “Only in America” story.
“We never expected gold, but she came through. She did it,” John Lee said.