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Suni Lee says she’s had ‘imposter syndrome’ since winning gold at Tokyo Olympics

The Auburn University gymnastics star said she had "anxiety attacks" at some meets early in the season.
Gymnastics star Suni Lee opened up about dealing with high expectations after winning gold in the all-around at the Tokyo Olympics. 
Gymnastics star Suni Lee opened up about dealing with high expectations after winning gold in the all-around at the Tokyo Olympics. Getty Images

Suni Lee stood atop the podium as the world's best all-around gymnast at this past summer's Tokyo Olympics, but the euphoria of winning gold soon gave way to struggling with "imposter syndrome."

The 19-year-old Auburn University star spoke to ESPN about what it has been like living up to her billing after winning gold in the women's all-around competition in her first Olympics.

“I feel like after the Olympics, there’s just been so much doubt in like, ‘Oh, she shouldn’t have won Olympics, blah, blah, blah,’ and it really hits my soul,” she said.

Her U.S. teammate, four-time gold medalist Simone Biles, entered the Olympics as the heavy favorite to win gold in the all-around but withdrew from the competition due to struggles with her mental health.

Even though Lee fulfilled the dream of her family and became the pride of her Hmong American community in Minnesota with her dazzling performance, she admittedly struggled with the feeling that she should not have won.

“Like imposter syndrome,” she told ESPN. “That’s exactly what I have. And it’s very hard. It was very hard for me to motivate myself the first couple of weeks here because it was like I didn’t want to do gymnastics, I hated it.”

Lee has grappled with her newfound fame as a freshman at Auburn, where she is a star on the NCAA's sixth-ranked women's team.

“I would have anxiety attacks at the meets,” she said. “Like the first couple of the meets of this season, I was a wreck because it was like constant screaming my name and like, ‘Suni, can you take a picture?’ or ‘Can you sign an autograph?’ while I’m trying to concentrate.”

Lee has delivered plenty of memorable moments in her first collegiate season, including three perfect 10 scores, one on the uneven bars and two on the balance beam.

Lee also became the first women's collegiate gymnast to ever perform the Nabieva skill on the uneven bars in a routine that went viral last month.

She is currently ranked second in the all-around standings in the NCAA behind her Olympic teammate, Oregon State's Jade Carey.

Auburn has been greeted with boisterous, sellout crowds in almost every meet with the reigning Olympic gold medalist as a prime attraction.

She has enjoyed the high moments and been honest about her struggles, tweeting on March 12 that "not everyday is gonna be my best day."

“I think it’s important because a lot of the times people forget that we’re human,” she told ESPN. “I think people just look at me as a famous person; they don’t actually look at me as a person and to kind of see that we can make mistakes, too.”