Olympics-Lee on comeback trail after battling kidney disease

Sunisa Lee runs through her beam routine during the second day of a two-day media event with the USA Gymnastics team ahead of the 2024 Olympics in Katy, Texas, U.S. February 5, 2024. REUTERS/Kaylee Greenlee Beal/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Olympic champion Sunisa Lee has said the kidney disease that threatened her gymnastics career is in remission and she feels better than ever as she bids for a spot on the U.S. team for this year's Paris Games.

The 21-year-old American, who won the all-around gold at the Tokyo Olympics, revealed late last year that the disease caused her face, fingers and legs to swell and made it difficult at times to even get out of bed.

"I was really nervous and obviously very sad because gymnastics is all I know," she told Reuters at a Team USA media summit in New York on Monday.

"Getting sick was very random. It kind of happened one Tuesday and it's something you can't wrap your head around."

Lee said the uncommon disease caused her to gain 45 pounds of water weight.

"I kept flying off the bar because my fingers were so swollen that they didn't fit into my grips," she said, adding that treatment has made the incurable condition manageable.

"Now that I am doing a lot better I am so grateful for the way that things turned out."

Lee said she feels great in practice and is looking forward to the Olympic trials, which will be held in her home state of Minnesota in June.

"Being in the gym consistently, I realised that I am so much better now with my gymnastics - even better than I was at the last Olympics - and that has motivated me," she said.

Lee has been helped along on her journey by four-times Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, who withdrew from the team competition in Tokyo citing mental health issues.

(This story has been corrected to clarify that Lee's home state is Minnesota in paragraph 8)

"She is someone who inspires me every day," Lee said.

"She has helped me to be a lot more open about talking about my mental health."

Lee said that despite reaching the mountaintop in Tokyo, where as an 18-year-old she won the all-around title as well as bronze in the uneven bars and silver in the team event, she feels even more pressure now.

"Having the title at the last Olympics has added a tremendous amount of pressure," said Lee, who is the only Asian American woman to win Olympic gold in the all-around.

"But this time I'm just trying to prove to myself that I deserve to be there."

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in New York; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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