WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) spoke on the Senate floor today to honor Sunisa (Suni) Lee, winner of the gold medal in the Women’s All-Around Gymnastics competition at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Lee, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, is the first Hmong American to make the U.S. Olympic Team and the first to win an Olympic gold medal. She is also the first Asian-American to win the Women’s All-Around Gymnastics competition.
In their remarks, the senators highlighted the challenges Lee overcame to compete on the world stage, including training through the coronavirus pandemic, a broken foot, and tragedies within her family when she lost two relatives to the coronavirus and when a 2019 accident left her father paralyzed. They also highlighted Lee’s success as a testament to the strength of Minnesota’s communities, noting that watch parties were held across the state to support Suni even though the competition began at 5:00AM in Minnesota.
“Her accomplishments represent the resiliency of her community and are an inspiration to Hmong Americans and all of us. They also represent her own personal resilience to be able to shine in that moment with such grace under pressure. Truly, she has captured the hearts of people around the world,” said Klobuchar.
“Suni gave a historic performance while under immense personal pressure, and under the difficult circumstances that have defined these 2021 Olympic Games. Suni stepped up and gave an astounding performance to bring home gold, continuing the American tradition of excellence in women’s gymnastics,” said Smith. “Every Olympic medal represents untold hours of hard work, struggle, and resilience, and Suni Lee’s All-Around Gold is no exception. Congratulations Suni—we are all so proud of you. Thank you for your courage, dedication, and the inspiration you offer to all Americans.”
Sen. Klobuchar: Madame President, I of course, join my colleagues in their fond words for Carl Levin, he was a mentor to me like so many and I’m looking forward to speaking about him, as well as my good friend Senator Enzi who we also tragically lost this past week, in the coming days. But today, I am focused on another topic and that is the Olympics. I rise today to congratulate and honor Minnesota’s own Sunisa Lee, who won the gold medal in the Women’s All-Around Gymnastics event at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. I got up like many Minnesotans at five in the morning to watch this live and it was a sight to behold.
Suni hails from St. Paul, Minnesota. The youngest member of the U.S. women’s gymnastics teams at just 18, she has been competing on the national and international stages since 2015.
She is now officially the best women’s gymnast in the world.
Suni Lee’s journey is a remarkable one. She faced incredible challenges to compete on the world stage, including training through the coronavirus pandemic, breaking her foot, and, sadly, experiencing tragedies within her family when she lost two relatives to COVID and when a 2019 accident left her father paralyzed.
On Thursday, July 29, 2021, she led the American team’s quest for gold in the Women’s All-Around Gymnastics event after the legendary Simone Biles withdrew, but Simone Biles stayed and was there for her teammates and was there in the stands. But with the pressure of the world upon her, Suni Lee, who never thought she would be leading that team, who never thought that this honor would be hers, gave the performance of her life.
Suni’s difficult and daring uneven bars routine sealed her victory. The routine set a 6.8 difficulty mark and earned a score of 15.3, tied for the highest score by any gymnast in the competition. She defended the American title in the Women’s All-Around Gymnastics event, marking the fifth consecutive Olympic win for an American.
She also contributed to the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team’s silver medal performance in the team competition. She is a team player and a role model for young men and women around the nation.
Suni’s entire family contributed to her success, and for many of us who watched we saw them all in that room cheering her on. Her family back in time fled terror and violence in their native country of Laos to create a better life for their children. Her father, John Lee, built Suni a wooden balance beam in their backyard when she was a child because they could not afford to buy one. As she said after her championship performance, ‘We both worked for this. My father sacrificed everything to put me in gymnastics.’
Suni Lee represented the best of America on the world stage. Minnesota, as my colleague Tina Smith will share with you soon, is home to more than 81,000 Hmong Americans, the largest urban concentration in the United States. Suni’s family, like many, arrived in America in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, seeking a better life.
Suni is the first Hmong American to make the U.S. Olympic Team and the first to win an Olympic gold medal. She is the first Asian-American to win the Women’s All-Around Gymnastics competition. Her accomplishments represent the resiliency of her community and is an inspiration to Hmong Americans and all of us. They also represent her own personal resilience to be able to shine in that moment with such grace under pressure. Truly, she has captured the hearts of Minnesotans and people around the world.
Madame President, Suni Lee’s win is a remarkable achievement. I am pleased to take this opportunity to congratulate her; her coach, Jess Graba; her parents, John Lee and Yeev Thoj; and her entire extended family. I wish her continued success throughout her gymnastics career and beyond. And we can’t wait to welcome her home.
Thank you, Madame President. I yield the floor.
Sen. Smith: I'm just delighted to be here on the floor with my colleague, Senator Klobuchar, to offer my heartfelt congratulations to Suni Lee of St. Paul, Minnesota, who won Olympic gold in the individual All-Around event Women’s Gymnastics in Tokyo this week.
Suni gave a historic performance while under immense personal pressure and under the difficult circumstances that have defined the 2021 Olympic Games, but she stepped up and she gave an astounding performance to bring home gold, continuing the American tradition of excellence in women's gymnastics.
Her routine on the uneven bars, as Senator Klobuchar said, one of the most difficult ever attempted in women's gymnastics, was just stunning. On her way to Olympic gold, Suni faced really tremendous obstacles. After beginning her gymnastics training at age six, Suni showed incredible dedication, focus, and drive to reach the elite levels of her sport despite injuries and personal challenges.
In 2019, her father was paralyzed in an accident but continued supporting his daughter's gymnastics career. While continuing her training during the coronavirus pandemic, Suni suffered a broken foot, an Achilles tendon injury, and the tragic loss of her aunt and uncle to coronavirus.
While pandemic precautions meant there were no spectators to cheer her on in Tokyo, Suni’s family, friends, community members, and gymnastic fans all over the country got together to cheer her on from afar with watch parties held in her honor. The videos of these gatherings showed the incredible shared joy and pride in her incredible accomplishment, and I'm sure that she could feel all of that love and support as she competed in Tokyo.
Not only is Suni the youngest member of the U.S. Women's Olympic Gymnastics team but she is also the first Hmong-American on the U.S. Olympics team and now is the first Asian-American to be the Olympic Women’s All-Around champion. Her leadership and sportsmanship are an inspiration and Minnesota is so proud to call her one of our own.
In fact, Minnesota's Governor Tim Walz and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter have announced that today, Friday, July 30, 2021, is Suni Lee Day. Amy, it's too bad we can't be there to help them celebrate in St. Paul.
I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate those who contributed to Suni’s victory. Her parents, John Lee and Yeev Thoj, and her coach, Jess Graba. After Suni won her gold, she reminded us all that no one achieves success alone as she said, and I quote, ‘This is my family's medal, my medal, and my coach's medal.’
Madame President, in this moment I also would like to take an opportunity to acknowledge the awe-inspiring leadership of Simone Biles. Her choice to withdraw from the All-Around event in order to protect her health and safety was courageous and is an important reminder that mental health is an essential part of our overall well-being. In addition to being the greatest of all time, Simone’s powerful advocacy and her unwavering support for Suni and the rest of her team shows that she is also a great team player and an activist. Every Olympic medal represents untold hours of hard work and struggle and resilience, and Suni Lee's All-Around gold is no exception. So congratulations to Suni. We are all so proud of you. Thank you for your courage, your dedication, and your inspiration to all of us everywhere in this country. Thank you, Madam President. And I yield the floor.
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