As Suni Lee prepared for her first event Friday, she looked into the stands at Dickies Arena. She knew her parents were there, somewhere among the crowd at the U.S. gymnastics championships, but she couldn't see them.
"I was getting nervous, because I didn't know where they were,'' Lee said. "Then right before I went, I saw them. And I was like, 'OK. This is going to be a good routine.'''
Lee sold herself a bit short. The St. Paul native came through with a phenomenal performance on her best event, the uneven bars, and landed in second place in the all-around standings after the first night of competition in Fort Worth, Texas. Her score of 57.350 trailed only superstar Simone Biles, who set herself apart from everyone else with a score of 59.550.
For the first time in three years, Lee's parents — Houa John Lee and Yeev Thoj — were able to see her compete in person. Suni Lee said her father, who was paralyzed in an accident two years ago, told her to "forget about everything and just do what I do best."
She took that advice to heart.
Lee, who performs the most challenging bars routine of any gymnast in the world, glided through it without a bobble and scored a 15.300. That was the night's highest score on bars and the second-highest score of the entire competition, behind the 15.800 Biles earned on vault.
Grace McCallum of Isanti stands in eighth place in the all-around with a score of 54.300. She started on floor exercise and fell on a tumbling pass, drawing a score of 12.450 that put her in an early hole. McCallum also had a fall on bars, but she finished strong, earning the night's second-highest score on balance beam (14.200).
Injuries have prevented Lee, 18, from doing an all-around competition for the past year. She performed only on bars and beam in three earlier meets this season.
With the Olympic trials looming in two weeks, Lee said it was important to compete in all four events and build her confidence. She succeeded on all counts, leaving her excited to see what happens on the second day of competition Sunday.
"This performance meant a lot to me," Lee said. "I was really excited to get back out there on vault and floor [exercise]. But my bar routine was something I was really proud of. It felt amazing.''
Biles, who is pursuing her seventh U.S. all-around championship, cruised through the competition. She posted the highest score on all events except bars.
Two weeks ago, Lee fell on both bars and beam at the U.S. Classic and vowed to train even harder. She said she thought people doubted whether she could execute her daunting bars routine, which has a difficulty score of 6.8. Lee made it look simple, moving from one tricky skill to the next and sticking the dismount.
Lee did only three tumbling passes on her floor exercise to protect her tender ankle, but she still got a score of 13.750, third-highest of the night.
Two Olympic medalists who made comebacks this season, Laurie Hernandez and Chellsie Memmel, had mixed results.
Memmel, 32, competed in three events with her two children watching from the stands. She posted top-six scores on beam and vault.
Hernandez, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the team event, hyperextended a knee in warmups. After earning a score of 12.400 on beam, she withdrew from the rest of the evening's events.
Hernandez said on Twitter she is "keeping an open mind" about whether to compete Sunday.
The Star Tribune did not travel for this event. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the competition.