BY Harrison Tarr
For the Observer
The Auburn gymnastics faithful have waited their turn.
They cheered from their homes during the summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and they tuned in to Dancing With the Stars every week to offer their support. On Friday night, they finally had the opportunity to see Olympic all-around champion Suni Lee take the floor inside of Auburn Arena.
In her first appearance in orange and blue, Auburn’s star freshman was everything it wanted her to be and more. Tiger fans brought the energy and rallied behind Lee from the moment she first ran out of the team’s locker room.
“It was amazing,” Lee said. “I feel like the last time I was in front of a crowd like that was at the Olympic Trials.”
To Lee, the energy inside of Auburn Arena served as a testament to the outpouring of support she has received since her first arrival on the Plains.
“Everybody here has been so supportive,” Lee said. “It’s Auburn. Everybody is going to love you for you and you don’t have to be perfect. I think that really helped me tonight.”
The freshman noted her appreciation for the fans who showed out for the team’s scrimmage, adding that she’s the type of competitor who feeds off of her surroundings.
“It just felt amazing to have the crowd,” Lee said. “I’m definitely someone who thrives off the energy. It helped me tonight.”
Despite the immeasurable amount of hype surrounding her on Friday night, Lee did fall on beam in her first ever event in front of an Auburn crowd. She claims that her resilient effort on the uneven bars was due — in large — to the audience’s ability to respond to her.
“Before my bar routine I kind of went up to the crowd and was like ‘get loud,’” Lee said. “I really needed that to push me to stay up on the bar. I needed to feel the energy and the good vibes.”
As much as she credits her success to her supporters, Lee believes that her mistake on beam was due to the pressure she places upon herself to succeed.
“I was obviously nerve-wrecked because I think I put a little too much pressure on myself this week to be perfect,” Lee said. “Especially coming off the Olympics.”
Maintaining realistic expectations and keeping a healthy level of self-motivation is a skillset Lee is actively working on.
“Trying not to push myself too hard,” Lee said. “I have a tendency to do that because I expect myself to be perfect and I put all that pressure on myself.”
It is also not unreasonable to believe that her shortened period of preparation — due to her tenure on Dancing With the Stars — played a role in the minor mishap.
“I’ve only been training for a week and a half,” Lee said. “So I’m really proud of how far I’ve come.”
With her first appearance in an Auburn leotard now behind her, Lee took a moment to appreciate the moment.
“It was really fun,” Lee said. “The energy was amazing, the girls are amazing. Everybody killed it.”
The standout freshman has high expectations for her team and looks forward to seeing what they can accomplish together.
“Obviously we still have some touching up to do,” Lee said. “But we’re going to be really good this year and I’m really excited.”
Auburn Gymnastics returns to practice with nearly a full month to prepare for its season opener at the North Carolina quad meet on Friday, Jan. 7. The Tigers will compete against the University of North Carolina, N.C. State and Bowling green at 6 p.m. CST. Broadcast and streaming information is not yet available.