US Gymnastics Gold Medalist Suni Lee Says She Was Pepper-Sprayed in Anti-Asian Attack

Adam WellsNovember 11, 2021

Suni Lee competes on the balance beam during the women's U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials Friday, June 25, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

United States Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Sunisa Lee said she was the victim of an anti-Asian attack recently. 

In an interview with Yerin Kim of PopSugar.com, Lee said she was out with a group of friends, all of whom are of Asian descent, when a group of people in the car drove by them yelling racial slurs before one of them pepper-sprayed her on the arm.  

"I was so mad, but there was nothing I could do or control because they skirted off," Lee said of her reaction. "I didn't do anything to them, and having the reputation, it's so hard because I didn't want to do anything that could get me into trouble. I just let it happen."

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of anti-Asian hate crimes reported across the United States since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Sakshi Venkatraman of NBC News, FBI statistics show there were 279 reported hate crimes against Asians in 2020. That represents a 73 percent increase from 2019 when there were 161 reported. 

Multiple athletes of Asian descent have said they experienced racist taunts over the past year. Former NBA player Jeremy Lin wrote on his personal Facebook page in February (h/t ESPN's Nick Friedell) he was "called 'coronavirus' on the court" by an opposing player during a G League game. 

Per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, the G League identified the player and handled the matter internally with Lin's support. 

Cleveland infielder Yu Chang tweeted out a series of racist messages he received on social media after an April game against the Chicago White Sox.

Lee won three medals as part of the U.S. women's gymnastics team at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. She became the first Hmong-American to qualify for the Olympics. The 18-year-old won the gold medal in the women's all-around.