American gymnast Suni Lee was finally able to drape the gold medal she won at the Tokyo Olympics around her father’s neck as she promised. The three-time medalist, who became a worldwide sensation when she won the Women’s All-Around Individual competition after Simone Biles withdrew, reunited Thursday with her family for the first time since returning from Japan.
Suni Lee said she wanted to share the medal with her father, John, for all of the sacrifices he made to keep her in gymnastics.
“I want to say thank you. I wouldn’t be here without you,” the 18-year-old told her dad on the TODAY show. Then turning to the rest of her family, “I wouldn’t be here without any of you. This whole dream has been amazing and an incredible journey. And to have you all here with me is just amazing.”
Along with her gold medal, Suni Lee won a silver medal in the Team All-Around competition and a bronze in the uneven bars. She’s the first Asian American woman to win the gold in the Individual All-Around.
Lee said her parents struggled to keep her in the cost-prohibitive sport of gymnastics. But they worked to help her chase her passion. John Lee even built a balance beam in the backyard of their St. Paul, Minnesota home.
She lamented that he couldn’t be in Japan to watch her perform. Unfortunately, spectators were barred from the Tokyo Olympics because of COVID-19
“This has been our dream forever,” she told TODAY, following the win. “I wish he was here. 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.”
Suni Lee Is an Internet Darling
Suni Lee’s social media accounts have exploded with new followers since she won the gold medal. Her Instagram account grew from 250,000 followers to more than 1 million during the Olympics. And a TikTok of her dancing in her hotel room and eating pizza with the medal has more than 7 million views.
Her teammates said she’s entirely genuine online.
“I feel like that’s just her personality,” Grace McCallum told PEOPLE. “She has the right personality to be famous.”
Jordan Chiles added, “Yeah, it’s just her. She fits in perfectly.”
Her dad John Lee has also become somewhat of an internet celebrity after a video of him watching his daughter win the gold medal went viral.
Though, she admitted the sudden onset of her internet celebrity was distracting and may have cost her a gold medal on the uneven bars. Even though she won a bronze medal, Lee was the odds-on favorite to win the event heading into the Games.
“Bars is something I really cherish,” Lee said told the Associated Press. “So when I mess it up, it really sucks.”
She said she needed a digital detox in the final days of the Olympics so she could focus on her performance.
“I’ll probably cool down a little bit and just focus on what I need to do especially because we’re coming to the end,” she said. “I want to just do the best I can and end it off good.”