Gymnast Suni Lee collected three medals, including gold in the all-around event, as the first Hmong American to participate in the Olympics this summer in Tokyo. Weeks after her trailblazing performance, Lee was a target in a racist attack, she revealed this week.
A group traveling by car shouted racist slurs such as “ching chong” toward Lee and her friends, all of whom were of Asian descent, as they waited for an Uber ride. Lee said the group told them to “go back to where they came from,” and one pepper sprayed the Olympian’s arm before driving off.
“I was so mad, but there was nothing I could do or control because they skirted off,” Lee, 18, told PopSugar. “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.”
Lee’s experience isn’t new among U.S. Olympians of Asian descent. A man yelled racial slurs and obscenities at karate fighter Sakura Kokumai, who is Japanese American, in a Southern California park this April. Orange County police arrested the man — 25-year-old Michael Vivona — for that incident, and he was apprehended again later that month for punching an elderly Korean couple.
“I was angry, frustrated, confused, scared, but I was also heartbroken to see and experience how people could be so cold,” Kokumai wrote in an Instagram post containing video of the man’s attack. “Please take care of each other. Please look out for one another.”
Lee, who claimed silver in the team event and bronze in the uneven bars during the Tokyo Olympics, is now competing on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” She’ll return to gymnastics at the college level as a freshman for Auburn in 2022.
The Tigers went 1-7 a season ago, but Lee’s addition has Auburn fans excited for a turnaround. Suni told PopSugar Auburn Arena has already sold all its gymnastics tickets for the 2022 season.
“All eyes are going to be on not only me,” Suni said, “but my whole college team.”
Source: CBS Sports
Also Read: Tokyo Olympics Creative Director Fired Over 1990s Comedy Skit Mocking the Holocaust