Suni Lee shattered back-to-back records during her first Olympic run at the 2020 Tokyo Games as the first Hmong American to win a gold medal, the first Hmong American to make the U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team, and the first Asian-American Olympic gymnastics all-around champion ever. Lee took home a total of three medals from the Games, one of each class. The 18-year-old gymnast is poised to take the sports world by storm. So what’s next for the extraordinarily talented athlete? Something a little more ordinary: college.
On Friday, Lee posted a photo of herself on her new stomping grounds, the campus of Auburn University in Alabama. At Auburn University, an NCAA Division I and SEC school, Lee will be a freshman gymnast under the coaching of Jeff Graba, the twin brother of her current coach Jess Graba. Lee committed to Auburn back in 2017, and will now be one of the most high-profile athletes competing in the NCAA.
Lee’s pivot between Olympian and college athlete would bring about some head scratches in the past, as it’s been historically more profitable for young professional athletes to forgo college in exchange for more lucrative opportunities. However, according to The Washington Post, new NCAA rules allow student athletes to profit off of their name, image, and likeness (NIL).
“If she had this year in 2020 when she was 17 and there was no NIL and that type of stuff, I think it’s a completely different ballgame,” coach Jeff Graba told Montgomery Advertiser. “I don’t know if she actually can go to college with all the endorsement deals that she would have had at her feet.”
But now, with the NIL policy change in place, elite gymnast Lee can capitalize off of her historic Olympic run and still have a traditional college experience. And even at the peak of her career, Lee knows that this is what she’s always wanted.
“Nobody intended for me to win the all-around gold. I didn’t intend for that to happen,” Lee said to Montgomery Advertiser. “So it was kind of like I already had my mind set on going to Auburn right away. So that was kind of the reason I came here, because I knew I wanted to be here.”
As reported by AuburnTigers.com, Lee will be studying marketing principles and concepts, living on-campus, and rooming with a gymnastics teammate. Lee will belong to Auburn’s class of 2025, and arrived on campus only a few days after the 2020 Olympics came to an end.