With Russia’s women’s gymnastics workforce main by greater than some extent and Simone Biles abruptly out of the competitors in Tuesday’s workforce remaining, it fell to Sunisa Lee, anchoring the USA on the uneven bars, to maintain the Individuals’ gold medal hopes alive.
It was, Lee mentioned afterward, “essentially the most strain I’ve ever felt in my life.”
It didn’t present.
The U.S. workforce, reeling from Biles’s withdrawal, already had two good routines within the bag, from Grace McCallum and Jordan Chiles, the latter of whom had not been scheduled to compete on bars in any respect and needed to step in with minutes’ discover. However neither McCallum nor Chiles is a bars specialist, and their scores couldn’t stand as much as the large numbers the Russian workforce was able to. (Three workforce members positioned within the high six on bars within the qualifying spherical.) Lee’s numbers might, and if the USA was to remain in any respect aggressive for the gold medal, she needed to come by.
Lee, 18, scored 15.2 on bars in qualifying, second solely to Nina Derwael of Belgium, who scored 15.366. And on Tuesday, with way more driving on her efficiency, she outdid herself and Derwael.
Not like within the qualifying spherical, when Lee carried out a barely more easy backup routine after lacking a connection between a transition from the excessive bar to the low bar and a transition again as much as the excessive bar, she nailed her full-difficulty set. It had an issue worth of 6.8, the very best on the planet.
She was barely off heart on that first transition — a deviation barely perceptible to the untrained eye however one that might fairly have led her to modify to the backup routine if the stakes hadn’t been so excessive. As an alternative, Lee powered by the connection, securing two additional tenths of some extent for the USA. She completed her large full, a 360-degree swing across the bar adopted by a 360-degree pirouette on her palms, in an nearly excellent handstand place, and caught her full-twisting double again dismount.
Her 15.four was the very best mark anybody has obtained on bars at the Tokyo Olympics up to now.
Lee went on to hit her steadiness beam routine, as did Chiles, who had not been scheduled to compete on that equipment, both, and McCallum. The U.S. workforce pulled inside eight-tenths of some extent of Russia.
Three sturdy ground routines from the Russian workforce have been an excessive amount of for the Individuals to beat, and would have been so even had Chiles not fallen on her third tumbling move. However within the final routine of the evening, after performances from Vladislava Urazova and Viktoria Listunova had assured Russia’s victory, Lee took Biles’s place on ground — having not warmed up any tumbling by any means earlier than the 30-second interval allotted instantly earlier than the rotation — and gave her workforce the reward of realizing, gold or no, that its Olympics had ended on a excessive word.
It was a grace-under-pressure efficiency for the ages from a lady barely out of highschool whose journey to the Olympics was marked by accidents, sickness and private hardship.
Lee’s father, John, was partly paralyzed after falling from a ladder in 2019, simply days earlier than she gained a silver medal within the all-around and gold on bars on the nationwide championships. Final 12 months, two relatives died inside two weeks of one another. Lee fell from the uneven bars in coaching, twisting her ankle. And he or she had a Covid-19 scare.
Regardless of all of that, she earned considered one of two assured spots on the Olympic workforce by ending second, behind Biles, on the Olympic trials. On the second of two days of competitors there, she really outscored Biles within the all-around.
The workforce remaining is now over. However for Lee, the competitors is simply starting. She certified for the all-around remaining on Thursday, for the bars remaining on Sunday and for the beam remaining on Tuesday, and is properly positioned to win medals in all three.
She may even be in competition for gold within the all-around, a notion that may have appeared ridiculous earlier than Tuesday. It doesn’t anymore.