The USA gymnastics team is back in the United States after winning a total of six medals at the Tokyo Olympics.
Suni Lee, the first Hmong American to compete in the Olympics, shared a special moment with her family on the “TODAY” show, seeing them for the first time since her historic gold medal win.
Lee’s father, mother, sister and brother were all in New York City to greet her for her homecoming before heading back to her hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota.
“Amazing, I haven’t seen them in so long,” Lee said. “To see them here with me in New York is absolutely amazing. I feel so proud. I’m so happy to see them.”
Then, in a heartfelt gesture, the 2020 Olympic all-around champion stood up and placed her gold medal around her father’s neck.
“It belongs to him, too, doesn’t it?” said “TODAY” co-anchor Savannah Gutherie.
From a young age, Suni’s father encouraged her interest in gymnastics and even built her a balance beam in their backyard when he couldn’t afford to buy one. Now, sitting with his daughter who accomplished so much on the Olympic stage, he talked about that handmade beam.
“That beam was built out of a piece of wood… I never thought I’d be wearing one of these [gold medals] because of that beam,” he said. “It’s just incredible. I love that beam now.”
Her triumph also carried special resonance in Minnesota’s tight-knit Hmong American community, one of the largest in the U.S. The Hmong community in Minnesota “sacrificed a lot” for her, Lee has previously acknowledged, including fundraisers. And when her family hosted a watch party to see her shining moment, between 300 and 400 people, mostly from the Hmong American community, turned up to sheer for the hometown girl.
Many Hmong, who fought for the U.S. in Laos during the Vietnam War, resettled in Minnesota. Patriotism runs deep in the community, fueling the joy over Lee’s success.
“I am proud. The family’s proud. The community is very proud of her,” John told “TODAY’s” Craig Melvin after Suni won the all-around individual competition.
Suni became the fifth straight American woman to claim the Olympic title in the women’s all-around. And while John, who is mostly confined to a wheelchair after an accident in 2019 left him partially paralyzed, was forced to cheer Suni on from afar, he at least can now share the gold medal with his daughter.
“I never thought I would ever get one of these, and she did it,” John said. “She got it, she brought it home.”
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