St. Paul gymnast Sunisa Lee wins all-around gold
Updated: 9:21 a.m.
Sunisa Lee is a golden girl.
The St. Paul gymnast became the fifth straight American woman to claim the Olympic all-around title on Thursday, edging Rebeca Andrade of Brazil in an entertaining and hotly contested final.
Lee's total of 57.433 points was just enough to top Andrade, who 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.
Lee — the first Hmong American Olympian — 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 opted to pull out of the all-around final, too.
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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.
Lee 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.
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.
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.
Lee’s Olympic run isn’t over yet. She could go home with even more hardware.
She will also compete in the bars final on Sunday — she’s a gold medal contender with one of the most difficult bars routines in the world — and in the beam finals on Aug. 3.
Jade Carey, who replaced Biles in the finals for the U.S. team, finished ninth.