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Suni Lee in Olympic gymnastics team contention after long road back

In early January, Suni Lee contacted coach Jess Graba to relay the good news from her doctors. She was ready to return to training.

Lee, the Tokyo Olympic all-around gold medalist, was sidelined for a few months in early 2023 after being diagnosed with two kidney diseases, then stopped doing gymnastics again for another few months at the end of the year.

She has been in remission since late last year. Lee settled into a routine with her medication. Her visits to the Mayo Clinic in her home state of Minnesota scaled back from monthly to every three months.

At this week’s Xfinity U.S. Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, Lee is expected to compete in the all-around (all four apparatus) on the elite level for the first time since the Tokyo Games.


The U.S. Championships are the last major competition before the Olympic Trials from June 27-30, which will be a home meet for Lee in the Twin Cities.

The trials all-around winner automatically makes the team for Paris. A three-person committee picks the rest of the five-woman squad, taking into account results dating back to last fall.

“Realistically, I think our goal is top five all-around and top three on (uneven) bars and (balance) beam and hold serve on the other two events (floor exercise and vault) and show that we can be there within a tenth or two of everybody else,” Graba said Wednesday, though it wasn’t clear if that’s the goal for this week or for trials (or both).

On the way to being 100 percent ready for trials, Lee and Graba estimated she was somewhere between 60 and 75 percent at the Core Hydration Classic on May 18. She competed on three events there, omitting bars.

At Classic, largely a tune-up meet, Lee was the lone gymnast to outscore both Simone Biles and Shilese Jones on any apparatus, winning beam. She performed less difficult routines on floor and vault.

“I’m just trying to give myself some grace and realize that I’m just not where I want to be quite yet, but it’s only going to get better,” she said afterward.

The Classic beam victory was significant in part because Lee cut last season short. She declined an invitation to the September 2023 World Championships team selection camp to prioritize her health after placing third on beam at last August’s U.S. Championships.

“I think my lowest point was after (U.S.) Championships,” Lee said.

In her return to training this year, an emphasis is endurance.

“We’re getting there,” Graba said. “The stamina is getting better. Her belief in the stamina isn’t quite there yet, but the stamina is better. Physically she’s fine, and she can do pretty much everything, but that doesn’t mean her mind knows it. We have to take care to make sure we don’t push her past what her mental capability is right now.”

Last year, Lee rewatched her own gymnastics highlights to get through difficult times. Graba called her “tough as nails. She’s always been tough as nails.”

This year, she has reflected on pictures from a year ago — when she couldn’t perform any skills and was told by at least one doctor that she probably wouldn’t do the sport again.

“We’ve come a long way,” Lee said.

At the U.S. Championships, Brody Malone is expected to compete in the all-around for the first time since major leg surgeries.