Olympic gold medalist and star gymnast Suni Lee has revealed that she struggled with anxiety and self-doubt following her all-around victory at the Tokyo Olympics last summer.
During an interview with ESPN on Monday, Lee shared that she experienced what she referred to as “impostor syndrome,” noting that the anxiety she felt almost stopped her from joining subsequent competitions.
According to the 19-year-old athlete, she lost confidence in herself after hearing comments about her Olympic performance.
“I feel like, after the Olympics, there’s just been so much doubt in like, ‘Oh, she shouldn’t have won Olympics [sic], blah, blah, blah,’ and it really hits my soul,” she said.
Since most fans expected four-time gold medalist and Lee’s fellow Team USA teammate Simone Biles to win gold at the Tokyo Olympics, Lee aspired to bring home silver. However, Biles eventually pulled out of the all-around event due to mental health issues.
Lee, a first-year student at Auburn University, is now hoping to prove to herself and others that she earned her gold medal “because I think I just put in my head that I didn’t deserve to win.”
“Like impostor syndrome,” she continued. “That’s exactly what I have. And it’s very hard. It was very hard for me to motivate myself the first couple of weeks here because it was like I didn’t want to do gymnastics, I hated it.”
During her first season as a college gymnast earlier this year, Lee made history as the second Auburn gymnast to score two perfect scores of 10.
Lee said that Jeff Graba, one of her Auburn coaches, is helping her “put things into perspective.” While Lee appreciates the attention she receives from fans, the spotlight that came with her Olympic success has also brought about mental health struggles.
“I would have anxiety attacks at the meets,” she said. “Like the first couple of the meets of this season, I was a wreck because it was like constant screaming my name and like, ‘Suni, can you take a picture?’ or ‘Can you sign an autograph?’ while I’m trying to concentrate.”
“When everybody expects you to be good for Auburn,” she added, “it’s really hard for me just mentally, because I already put so much pressure on myself that when I have that extra pressure stress added on to it, I just kind of break… I think people just look at me as a famous person; they don’t actually look at me as a person and to kind of see that we can make mistakes, too.”
Lee took to social media in February to share an entry from her journal that helped her cope with her anxiety.
Earlier this year, the athlete disabled the comments section of her Instagram post featuring her boyfriend after reportedly receiving “so much hate” over their interracial relationship.