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Olympics star Suni Lee makes a triumphant return to Twin Cities

Alex Chhith, Star Tribune on

Published in Olympics

MINNEAPOLIS — Suni Lee returned home Thursday afternoon after a triumphant turn at the Tokyo Olympics, greeted at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by a crowd of about 100 fans.

The 18-year-old gymnast, who garnered gold, silver and bronze medals for Team USA, reunited with her family on the "Today" show in New York before continuing on to the Twin Cities. Her flight touched down around 2 p.m., and the crowd roared as she emerged alongside teammate and fellow Minnesotan Grace McCallum, both wearing face masks and carrying bouquets.

The crowd at the airport included local elected officials, young gymnasts and their parents and other well-wishers who scrambled to catch a glimpse of Lee — and then followed as she made her way through baggage claim. Some carried signs that read "Welcome home Suni" and "Great job Suni," and one person fastened together colorful pool noodles in the shape of the Olympic rings.

Midwest Gymnastics, where Lee trains, had asked all families who could to gather at the airport to greet the returning Olympian. Evelyn Ashbach, an 8-year-old gymnast with the Little Canada gym, said seeing Lee on TV inspired her.

"I tried doing a flip on the trampoline," she said.

 

Lee, of St. Paul, is the first Hmong-American to make the U.S. Olympic team. She won gold in the women's gymnastics all-around, silver in the team competition and bronze on uneven bars, the event for which she is best known.

Kalia Chang was at the airport with her 4-year-old daughter, who is part Hmong, and said the girl planned to tell Lee: "When I grow up, I'm going to do your skills."

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, who stopped to snap a selfie alongside Lee, told media gathered at the airport that a parade in her honor is planned for Sunday afternoon.

Her time in Minnesota will be brief — she's headed to Alabama next week to start her freshman year at Auburn University.

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