Suni Lee Returns: 2023 US Classic Preview
This year’s U.S. Classic will be more exciting and intriguing than usual due to the comebacks of two Olympic all-around champions- Simone Biles and Suni Lee. While Simone has not competed at all in over two years, Suni has been competing at the NCAA level for the past two years. Suni joined Auburn’s gymnastics team right after winning the all-around gold medal in Tokyo, and her presence raised the level of attention and excitement for NCAA gymnastics.
During her freshmen season, Suni Lee led Auburn to its first-ever Final Four appearance. She also won the NCAA title on the balance beam and finished second in the all-around behind Trinity Thomas. She was the SEC Freshman of the Year and was a finalist for the Honda Award. She was also the first Auburn gymnast in 18 years to score a perfect 10. Prior to the beginning of her sophomore year, Lee announced that it would be her final season at Auburn so she could train for the 2024 Olympic Games. After such a successful freshmen season, expectations were high for her final season.
Although her season started out strong, it ended in disappointment. Her final meet was on February 24 against Georgia, and she stopped competing due to what was described as a “non-gymnastics health-related issue.” This meant she missed her final Auburn home meet, but she was still recognized for senior night. The Auburn team struggled without Lee, and they were eliminated in the semifinals of the 2023 NCAA Los Angeles Regional. After Auburn was eliminated, Lee shared on Twitter that her health issue was a kidney issue, and she was not cleared by her doctors to train or compete.
Lee was eventually cleared to train, and she began sharing training clips on social media. However, she was still dealing with kidney issues and has shared that she’s been “in and out of the gym.” Despite these challenges, she is still planning on making her return to the elite level at the upcoming U.S. Classic. Elite gymnastics differs from NCAA gymnastics because the routine requirements in elite are much harder than those in NCAA. However, because of her recent health issues, it is unlikely that Lee will showcase her most difficult skills at the U.S. Classic.
The U.S. Classic is essentially a warm-up meet for the National Championships, but it is important because it is the final chance for gymnasts to qualify for nationals. Lee has not competed in elite gymnastics at all this year, and she has not been able to attend any national team training camps, so this is her only opportunity to earn a qualifying score. However, she does not have to compete on all four events in order to qualify for nationals. If she can earn a 39.000 three-event score or a 26.400 two-event score, she will qualify for nationals. Her coach Jess Graba explained that she will likely only compete on the balance beam and vault with “safe” routines to ensure she will earn a qualifying score.
Both sessions of the senior women will be held on Saturday, August 5. The first session begins at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. Notable names in the first session include European champion and guest competitor Melanie de Jesus dos Santos and Joscelyn Roberson. As already mentioned, Simone Biles will also be making her return to competition at the U.S. Classic. Biles and Lee will compete in the evening session alongside fellow Olympic champion Jade Carey and World champions Jordan Chiles, Leanne Wong, and Skye Blakley. This session begins at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. Both sessions will air live on CNBC or streamed on Peacock, and international viewers can watch the live stream on the USA Gymnastics YouTube channel.