TOKYO — Her college checklist includes all the usual dorm-room amenities, such as pillows and posters and little reminders of home. Suni Lee could also pack something a little more unique when she moves into a residence hall at Auburn University next week.
"I'll probably bring my medals," Lee said. "They're a really good reminder. They're going to push me every single day to be even better."
Lee, of St. Paul, will leave the Tokyo Olympics with a full set. After winning gold in the all-around, silver in the team competition and bronze on uneven bars, she finished fifth Tuesday on balance beam in her final event of these Games.
“It's so crazy how this Olympic experience has been. I'm really excited to go home and let it all sink in.”
Though it was the only final in which Lee did not earn a medal, she wasn't disappointed.
She nearly fell off the beam but fought to stay on, earning a score of 13.866 and another reminder of the tenacity she displayed throughout her first Olympics. Lee tied Lakeville swimmer Regan Smith with three medals in Tokyo, as they became the first Minnesotans to win more than two in a single Olympics.
The three medals also tied for the most by a woman gymnast at the Tokyo Games. Russia's Angelina Melnikova won a gold and two bronzes. Overall, the U.S. women left Ariake Gymnastics Centre with six medals, the most of any team.
"I'm really proud of myself,'' Lee said after Tuesday's competition. "I'm actually super happy with the way this turned out. I didn't get a medal [on the beam], but it's not the end of the world. I'm still going home with three medals. It's just amazing.''
Lee was unhappy with her routine in the bars final Sunday, which was largely improvised after an early error. After winning the all-around gold medal three days earlier, she felt the frenzy surrounding the title had distracted her, leaving her less focused than she needed to be.
To avoid a repeat, Lee vowed to cut back on social media leading up to the beam final. "I just want to do the best I can,'' she said, "and end it off good.''
She started out well but nearly came off the beam at the end of a series of flips. She stuck out one leg and both arms to steady herself, somehow managing not to fall. The wobble knocked Lee's dismount off course, too, as she finished with a hop to the side.
"My practices before this were kind of rough on beam,'' Lee said. "[The event] makes me so nervous. It's scary and super nerve-racking. You have to be very mentally strong.''
Learning exactly how mentally strong she is will be the highlight of her Olympics. Lee said the thing she will remember most about Tokyo is the team final, when Simone Biles withdrew after the first event. Lee and her two remaining teammates, Grace McCallum of Isanti and Jordan Chiles, had to maintain their composure and hit their routines for the U.S. to win silver behind Russia.
“I'm really proud of myself. I'm actually super happy with the way this turned out. I didn't get a medal [Tuesday], but it's not the end of the world. I'm still going home with three medals. It's just amazing”
Lee won't have much time to reflect on her Olympic achievements. She is due to arrive on campus at Auburn, Ala., next Wednesday. There she will be coached by Jeff Graba, twin brother of Jess Graba, her longtime coach at Midwest Gymnastics in Little Canada.
Under new NCAA rules, athletes can benefit financially from their name, image and likeness, meaning Lee will not have to choose between competing for Auburn and profiting from her new fame. She hasn't ruled out joining the post-Olympics tour arranged by Biles, but she said any participation would have to be scheduled around her classes. Attending college is another lifelong dream, and Lee doesn't want to miss out on anything.
Lee is looking forward to a break from elite gymnastics and making the shift to NCAA competition, which isn't as intense as the elite ranks.
"That's my way of celebrating, going to college,'' Lee said. "It's really important to me.''
There are more decisions ahead. Lee isn't sure whether she will compete at this fall's world championships, or if she will return to elite gymnastics to pursue a berth at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
It's too early to look that far into the future, not when Lee is still wrapping her mind around the past two weeks.
"Not many people can say they came to the Olympics for the first time and brought home three medals,'' she said. "It's so crazy how this Olympic experience has been. I'm really excited to go home and let it all sink in."