Olympic gymnastics star Suni Lee attacked with pepper spray in anti-Asian assault

‘I was so mad, but there was nothing I could do or control because they skirted off’

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Friday 12 November 2021 05:44
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<p>File: Suni Lee won a gold for the women’s gymnastics all-around at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics</p>

File: Suni Lee won a gold for the women’s gymnastics all-around at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

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Olympic gold medallist Suni Lee said she was recently pepper sprayed in a racist attack while visiting her hometown in Minnesota.

The 18-year-old gymnast said she and her friends, who are of Asian descent, were waiting for an Uber when a car sped past them with people inside hurling racist slurs.

Ms Lee said one person from inside the car pepper sprayed her arm before they drove away. They yelled slurs such as “ching chong” and said they should “go back to where they came from”, she said in an interview with Pop Sugar published on Wednesday.

Recalling the incident that took place in October, she said: “I was so mad, but there was nothing I could do or control because they skirted off.”

“I didn’t do anything to them, and having the reputation, it’s so hard because I didn’t want to do anything that could get me into trouble. I just let it happen,” the gymnast added.

Ms Lee said that after the incident, she called her coach Jess Graba, who flew out to Los Angeles to be with her.

The athlete is the first Hmong American to participate in the Olympics. She struggles to wrap her head around these hateful crimes and speak on sensitive topics such as racial injustice, she pointed out.

In the tell-all interview, she spoke about mental health and the support she received after coming forward about self care.

“It’s okay to feel down sometimes, but what I’ve realised is that it’s important to express your feelings and ask for help. In the past, I might have pushed on and not acknowledged the state of my mental health. But there’s so much power in owning your feelings. It’s not weakness, it’s actually taking control,” she said.

Ms Lee won a gold for the women’s gymnastics all-around at the Tokyo Olympics. She took the place of Simone Biles who withdrew from the team finals to prioritise mental health. “Nobody expected me to win the gold medal, so when I did, my life turned overnight,” she said.

The athlete is currently competing on the American reality show Dancing With the Stars.

Anti-Asian hate crimes have skyrocketed since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. Physical attacks on Asians in the US increased to 16.6 per cent in 2021 from 10.8 per cent of all incidents last year.

President Joe Biden signed an anti-Asian hate crime bill into law in May with bipartisan support.

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