Sunisa “Suni” Lee, a first-generation Hmong American Olympian who won three medals at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, was named alongside swimmer Caeleb Dressel as Athletes of the Year at the 2021 Sports Illustrated Awards.
New achievement: Lee, 18, was named by the American sports magazine as Female Athlete of the Year, while Dressel was named the Male Athlete of the Year. The awards show was held at Hollywood’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Florida on Tuesday, according to Sports Illustrated.
- Lee was welcomed onstage by former Miami Dolphins quarterback and NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino. In her speech, the gymnast revealed that she almost quit the sport before the 2020 Tokyo Games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- “It was just really hard for me to stay motivated,” Lee said. “But I think the one thing that kept me going was my parents and my coaches for pushing me to be my best every single day.”
- “The one thing that I would say would be you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great,” Lee continued. “And I think that’s something that’s so important because people tend to get caught up in trying to live up to a standard.”
- She then thanked her Hmong community and family, who have fully supported her in her career as a gymnast and an Olympian. At one point, her father created a balance beam in their home for her, because their family could not afford to buy, NBC News reported.
Your 2021 SI Athletes of the Year:
Suni Lee & Caeleb Dressel 👏👏
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 8, 2021
Other details: Lee, the first Hmong American Olympic gymnast, won gold at the women’s individual gymnastics all-around event during the 2020 Tokyo Games in July. She also took home silver from the team event and bronze after placing third in uneven bars.
- In an interview with People ahead of the Olympics, Lee said becoming the first Hmong American Olympic gymnast “means a lot to the Hmong community … and to just be an inspiration to other Hmong people [means] a lot to me too.”
Featured Image via @sunisalee