When Simone Biles Takes a Step Back, Sunisa Lee Takes a Step

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With Russia’s women’s gymnastics team leading by more than one point and Simone Biles abruptly out of the competition in Tuesday’s team final Sunny Lee, anchored the USA on uneven bars to keep the Americans’ hopes of gold medal alive.

“It was the biggest pressure I’ve ever felt in my life,” Lee later said.

It didn’t show.

USA team, shaking Biles’ withdrawal There were already two good routines in the bag from Grace McCallum and Jordan Chiles, the latter not scheduled to compete in bars and had to kick in within minutes. But neither McCallum nor Chiles are bar experts, and their points didn’t stand up to the massive numbers the Russian team could make. (Three Russians placed in the top six in the bars in the knockout round.) Lee could have had his points, and if the United States were to remain competitive for the gold medal, he would have to pass.

18-year-old Lee scored 15.2 points in the bars in the qualifying rounds, placing second after Belgian Nina Derwael with 15,366 points. And on Tuesday, he outperformed himself and Derwael by putting much more emphasis on his performance.

Unlike the qualifying round, Lee nailed the full set of challenges when he performed a slightly less difficult backup routine after missing the link between the high-bar transition and the high-bar transition back. It had the world’s highest difficulty value of 6.8.

This was a bit off-center on the first pass – an aberration that was barely perceptible to the untrained eye, but could have caused him to switch to his backup routine if the stakes weren’t so high. Instead, Lee powered over the link and secured two-tenths more of a point for the United States. He completed a 360-degree spin around the bar, then a 360-degree pirouette in his hands, descending from his full-twisted double-back horse, in an almost perfect handstand.

15.4 was the highest score anyone has ever scored in bars at the Tokyo Olympics.

Lee continued to hit his balance beam routine like Chiles and McCallum, who were not scheduled to compete on that device. The US team pulled eight-tenths of a point from Russia.

The three strong ground routines from the Russian team were too much for the Americans to handle and would have been so even if Chile hadn’t dropped on their third rolling pass. But in the final routine of the night, after the performances of Vladislava Urazova and Viktoria Listunova ensured Russia’s victory, Lee replaced and handed Biles, who had not warmed up in any way before the 30-second period given just before the rotation. The team was given the gift of knowing that their Olympics, gold or not, ended on a high note.

A woman fresh out of high school whose journey to the Olympics was marked by injuries, illnesses, and personal challenges was a grace under pressure for the ages.

Lee’s father, John, partially paralyzed A few days before falling off a ladder in 2019, she won an all-around silver medal at the national championships and a gold medal in the bars. Last year, two relatives died two weeks apart. Lee fell off the uneven railings in practice and sprained his ankle. and he had a fear of Covid-19.

Despite all this, he finished second behind Biles in the Olympic trials, earning one of the two guaranteed points on the Olympic team. In the second of two days of competition there, he actually outpaced Biles in every way.

The team final is now over. But for Lee, the competition is just getting started. He qualified for the all-round final on Thursday, the bar final on Sunday, and the beam final on Tuesday, and is in a good position to win medals in all three.

It may even be squabbling for gold everywhere, an idea that would look ridiculous before Tuesday. It doesn’t happen anymore.

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