The American gymnast won the women’s all-around title in Tokyo on Thursday, with Brazil’s Rebecca Andrade in second and Angelina Melnikova of the Russian Olympic Committee in third.
Lee, who raises the United States’ Olympic gold medal tally to five in the event, clocked 57.433 as teammate and 2016 all-around champion Simone Biles from the stands.
Given what Lee has experienced over the past two years, no wonder the word she twice landed on to describe her victory was “real.”
In 2019, she won a gold medal on the uneven bars at the US Championships, shortly after her father fell from a ladder and was paralyzed from the chest down, while last year she lost her aunt and uncle to Covid-19.
Lee, who turned 18 in March, has also recovered from multiple injuries, including a broken bone in her foot and an Achilles tendon injury last year.
“The last two years have been absolutely crazy about Covid and my family and everything else,” Lee told reporters at the Ariake Gymnastics Center.
“This medal definitely means a lot to me because there was a time when I wanted to quit and I didn’t think I’d ever be here, with injuries and stuff involved.
“So there’s a lot of emotion, but I’m definitely very proud of myself for living with it and believing in myself.”
With teammate and close friend Jordan Chili, Biles was cheering and clapping Lee and Team USA’s Jade Carey from the stands.
The gold medal adds to the silver medal won with Team USA in the team event on Tuesday, and their victory means the US is on a par with the Soviet Union and a record six wins in the women’s all-around.
Lee started the evening with a score of 14.600 on the vault and then moved to medal position with a 15.300 on the uneven bars.
His 13.833 on the balance beam gave him the lead over Andrade, and the Brazilian then stepped up his floor routine twice to end his hopes of gold.
“I was starting to put a little bit of pressure on myself,” Lee said. “Knowing that Simone was gone, I think people put the kind of pressure on me that I had to come back with a medal.
“I tried not to think about it…[and]just focus on myself and do what I normally do because that’s when I compete best.”
Meanwhile, Andrade has her reasons to be proud as she has become the first Brazilian woman to win an Olympic gymnastics medal.
She qualified for the event in second place – behind Biles and ahead of Lee – and scored high on Vault and Bar in the finals. But it was Lee who took the lead in the third rotation.
“I did my best and I’m very proud of the result,” Andrade said. “I worked hard, I worked with my psychologist to achieve these objectives… I don’t care if it’s gold, silver or bronze, or even if I have a medal.” No. I think I did very well and I am very grateful for that.”
For Melnikova, her bronze medal adds to the gold she won with ROC earlier this week.
“I am extremely happy. It has been a tough road to get here. All my dreams have come true,” she said. “I basically worked for it for five years and in all those five years I didn’t miss any major competition.”
Following the team and surrounding events, the women’s artistic gymnastics competitions resumed in Tokyo on Sunday with vault and uneven bar events.
Correction: A caption has been updated to include Grace McCallum, previously misidentified by Getty Images.