Olympic gymnast Suni Lee has revealed she was the victim of a racist attack in Los Angeles in which a group of people in a car sprayed her with pepper spray and called her “ching chong.”
The gold medalist, the first Hmong American to ever compete in the Olympics, said she was “so angry” after the unidentified group told her to “go back to where she came from.”
The 18-year-old told PopSugar in a recent interview that the horrific moment happened as she waited for an Uber after a night out with friends, who were also all of Asian descent.
Suddenly, a car drove past them and the passengers started yelling racist utterances, including “ching chong,” before telling the gymnast and her friends to “go back to where they came from.” Lee said one of them even sprayed her arm with pepper spray.
“I was so angry, but there was nothing I could do or control because they ran off,” she recalls. “I didn’t do anything to them, and with the reputation it’s so hard because I didn’t want to do anything that could get me in trouble. I just let it happen.’
Olympic gymnast Suni Lee said she was the victim of a racist attack in Los Angeles, California — revealing that a group of boys pepper sprayed her and called her “ching chong”
The gold medalist, who was the first Hmong American to ever compete in the Olympics, said the men also told her to “go back to where she came from”
The 18-year-old told PopSugar that the horrifying moment happened when she was waiting for an Uber after a night out with friends, who were also of Asian descent.
In October, the FBI released data showing that anti-Asian hate crimes had increased by 76 percent by 2020.
According to the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics report, anti-Asian incidents have risen significantly from 158 in 2019 to 279 in 2020, although they account for only a small percentage of the 8,263 total hate crimes reported in 2020.
Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of Asian-American and Pacific Islander advocacy groups and scientists, previously claimed that anti-Asian hate crimes have risen exponentially since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The group said it had received reports of nearly 10,000 incidents since March 2020, with 43 percent of the targeted victims being of Chinese descent.
They believe the surge in attacks was fueled by what many believe were then-President Donald Trump’s incendiary comments blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic. He called the coronavirus “the China virus” and “kung flu.”
The young athlete told the outlet that sports is not a conventional career path in Hmong American communities, but her family has allowed her to follow her dream
Elsewhere in the interview, the gymnast opened up about how the responsibility and pressure of being a gold medalist has affected her since her 2020 win.
Elsewhere in the interview, Lee told the outlet that sports are not a conventional career path in Hmong’s American communities, but her parents, Yeev Thoj and John Lee, allowed her to follow her dream.
“I know there is a standard that Hmong girls have to live up to,” she continued.
The young athlete, who was born in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and has been doing gymnastics since she was seven, said she still doesn’t see herself as an Olympic gold medalist. She took home the gold medal as all-around champion in women’s gymnastics at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, last summer.
“It’s crazy to think that. I’m still having trouble letting it sink in,” she told the outlet. “Nobody expected me to win the gold medal, so when I did, my life changed overnight.”
In 2019, days before she was due to compete in the national championship, her father – who was by her side in every game – suffered a terrifying injury when he fell from a ladder and was paralyzed from the chin.
She said it was heartbreaking to see him in a wheelchair, but he insisted that she go to the championships anyway.
Speaking to the magazine, Lee revealed that she nearly quit just days before the Olympics, due to the strain of practicing alone every day. But she explained that the special bond she shared with her teammates kept her going.
Now she’s on Season 30 of Dancing With the Stars and has plans to attend Auburn University in Alabama. The athlete said she hopes for a ‘normal’ college experience
On why she decided to join DWTS, she explained: ‘I did gymnastics for about 12 years and I feel like I never had time to just do something fun’
The gymnast also shared how the responsibility and pressure of being a gold medalist has influenced her since her victory in 2020.
“I’m only 18, living in LA, and I have all these expectations of mine,” she said. “Besides, I put a lot of pressure on myself, so it’s pretty scary.
“I get too caught up in my head that it takes away the joy of the experience. I am surrounded by people every day and sometimes I like to be alone. I haven’t really had a day to just chill and do nothing.’
Now she’s on Season 30 of Dancing With the Stars and has plans to attend Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. And the sports star said she hopes for a “normal” college experience, despite her massive fame.
“I lost all my childhood to gymnastics,” she said, admitting that she regretted missing out on “normal” high school things like football games, balls, and parties.
“Because I sacrificed all that, I wanted to have the college experience and get what I couldn’t have [in high school] … I wanted to be treated normally.’
As for her DWTS appearance, Suni explained, “I was doing gymnastics for about 12 years and I feel like I’ve never had time to just do something fun. I really wanted to find myself in this show, because I feel like everything has been taken from me in gymnastics.”