Suni Lee Plagued By Anxiety Attacks And 'Impostor Syndrome' After Olympic Gold

The American gymnast said high expectations following her victory at the Tokyo Games have led to confidence problems.

American gymnast Suni Lee says she’s been plagued by anxiety attacks and what she called “impostor syndrome” since winning her Olympic gold medal last summer.

In an interview with ESPN posted Tuesday, Lee said her adjustment to college gymnastics at Auburn University has been compromised by “intense pressure” and an “immense amount of scrutiny.”

More than 13,000 attended to watch the Summer Games hero compete at Louisiana State University in February ― and she did not disappoint. Lee recorded her first 10 for Auburn ― and her celebration with teammates went viral.

But Lee, a Minnesota native, said she has had rough moments amid a crisis of confidence. She told Auburn gymnastics coach Jeff Graba “I can’t do this” at one point.

“I would have anxiety attacks at the meets,” Lee said. “Like the first couple of the meets of this season, I was a wreck because it was like constant screaming my name and like, ‘Suni, can you take a picture?’ or ‘Can you sign an autograph?’ while I’m trying to concentrate.”

Suni Lee celebrates with her all-around gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Suni Lee celebrates with her all-around gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Tim Clayton - Corbis via Getty Images

Other top athletes also have revealed mental health struggles. Japanese tennis great Naomi Osaka, whose depression and anxiety led her to drop out of last year’s French Open, cried and called out a bully in the stands after being heckled in Indian Wells last weekend.

Two-time U.S. ski gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin faltered in the Winter Olympics last month, saying two straight disqualifications made her second-guess years of preparation. She left Beijing without a medal.

And Lee’s U.S. gymnastics teammate, then-reigning gold medalist Simone Biles, dropped out of the all-around event in Tokyo due to mental health concerns. Lee, in perhaps the highlight of the entire Summer Games, seized the spotlight with a gold medal performance.

Lee revealed to ESPN she’s told herself she didn’t deserve to win.

“Like imposter syndrome,” she said. “That’s exactly what I have. And it’s very hard. It was very hard for me to motivate myself the first couple of weeks here because it was like I didn’t want to do gymnastics. I hated it.”

Lee won the uneven bars with her second-best score of the season in Auburn’s tri-meet against host Michigan and West Virginia on Saturday. Still, she wrote on Twitter: “not everyday is gonna be my best day.”

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