Sunisa Lee’s life changed the second she placed a trophy round her neck. The newly minted Olympic gymnastic champion’s plans, however, have not. At least for now. A day after an exciting victory within the women’s all-around, Lee insisted she’s able to attend start her college career at Auburn. Really ready. When incoming freshmen are expected to report back to their dorm rooms on The Plains on Aug. 11, Lee plans to be there. “(College) just has been another one among my dreams and goals after the Olympics,” the 18-year-old said Friday, but 24 hours after edging Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade for the highest spot on stage. “So I desire if I were to travel pro, it might need to be like something like specialized.
Well, it’d be. The Americans have produced each of the past five Olympic champions. The previous four — Carly Patterson, Nastia Liukin, Gabby Douglas, and Simone Biles — were teenagers at the time of their triumphs. None of them competed collegiately, opting to show professionalism in an attempt to take advantage of their newfound celebrity. Back then, however, things were different. Gymnasts had to settle on between accepting endorsements or college scholarships. Those days are over because of recently passed legislation that permits collegiate athletes to form money off their name, image, and likeness.
There will likely be no shortage of possibilities for the charismatic Lee, the primary Hmong American to win an Olympic medal. She’s getting a touch of a crash program on the finer points of the principles surrounding NLI. Whatever comes along, however, she expects to compete for the Tigers next season. “I do want to travel to school and celebrate and type of escape from this elite atmosphere simply because it’s so, like, crazy,” Lee said. “And i do know that college goes to be way better.” The transition should be easy. Lee’s longtime coach Jess Graba and Auburn coach Jeff Graba are twin brothers. Jeff Graba doesn’t see why Lee can’t attend school while enjoying the trimmings that accompany being a multiple-medal winner in one of the Olympics marquee sports.
“There’s a professional league for gymnastics, it’s just endorsements,” Jeff Graba said. “So it’s name image and likeness. Time permitting, she should be ready to make even as much money as she would have normally made.” Lee could become the primary true litmus test for athletes in traditionally non-revenue college sports. She’s in no hurry to seek out out. She’s a favorite to feature another medal to her gold within the all-around and team silver during the uneven bars final on Sunday.
Maybe by then, things will have settled down a touch. They didn’t within the hours after her steady, poised performance on floor exercise helped her soar to the highest of the stage. Her phone practically melted from her notifications on social media from random well-wishers to actress Reese Witherspoon. Not bad for somebody whose slow recovery from a broken foot left her eager to bail on trying to form it to Tokyo. She hung in there and now finds herself one among the new faces of her sport and therefore the U.S. Olympic movement.
St. Paul, Minnesota, where Lee is from, declared Friday “Sunisa Lee Day,” a logo of just how quickly things can turn once you stand atop the stage at the Olympics with the anthem playing and NBC’s ever-present cameras zooming in. Yes, she’ll reach Auburn as not just another freshman. Yet she is looking forward to the prospect to bring some balance to her life. The run-up to the Olympics may be a grind at the elite level. NCAA rules will limit her practice time. She needs the remainder. “My body just needs time to heal itself,” she said.
She hasn’t ruled out trying to try to both collegiate and elite gymnastics at an equivalent time. Maybe she’ll attempt to make the planet championship team in 2022 and 2023. those coming this fall are out of the question. There are classes to urge to. A roommate to hold out with. A life to start . “It’s just a special environment,” Lee said. “I won’t be doing any gymnastics. So it’ll be really exciting on behalf of me once I can just, like, leave and do stuff.”