Sunisa Lee's mastery on the uneven bars helped vault the St. Paul gymnast to international prominence this year. Thursday, a mistake in her bars routine kept her off the podium at the world championships.
Lee, 16, finished eighth in the women's all-around competition in Stuttgart, Germany, after an early miscue hurt her score in her signature event. Her U.S. teammate — the extraordinary Simone Biles — was nearly flawless, winning her fifth world all-around title by a record margin of 2.1 points. Biles finished with a total score of 58.999, ahead of Tang Xijing of China (56.899) and Angelina Melnikova of Russia (56.399).
Lee rallied with strong performances on balance beam and floor exercise, pushing her to a total score of 55.632. She will conclude her first world championships by competing in two event finals, bars on Saturday and floor exercise on Sunday.
Biles' gold was her 22nd medal at the world championships, one short of the overall record set by Vitaly Scherbo of Belarus. She is expected to surpass that mark this weekend, when she competes in the finals of all four individual events.
"I feel like I kind of let the nerves get to me a little bit, but it's all part of the learning experience," Lee said to reporters in Germany after the meet. "There's going to be a lot more meets to come before the Olympics, so hopefully I can kind of get myself back together for that."
In last Saturday's qualifying round, Biles and Lee finished 1-2 in the all-around, just as they did at the U.S. championships in August. Lee was favored to stay on Biles' heels in the final. She started with a score of 14.466 on vault and was fifth after the first rotation.
On bars, Lee missed an early element in which she moves from the high bar to the low bar. When she grabbed the low bar, she lost momentum and stopped the routine. She resumed and finished well, but her score of 13.133 put her in ninth place at the midway point.
Lee got a score of 15.000 on bars in the qualifying round and 14.733 in the team finals, when she helped the U.S. to the gold medal.
On balance beam, Lee regrouped, earning a 13.833 for her best beam score at the world championships. She concluded the all-around competition with a beautiful floor routine that scored a 14.200.
Lee, a student at South St. Paul High School, is in her first year of senior-level competition. Her father, John Lee, was released from the Minneapolis VA Medical Center on Wednesday. He had been hospitalized since an Aug. 4 fall left him paralyzed from the chest down.