Olympic gymnastics champ Sunisa Lee says she gained 45 pounds due to kidney issue

August 25, 2023; San Jose, California, USA; Sunisa Lee performs on the balance beam during the 2023 U.S. Gymnastics Championships at SAP Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Sunisa Lee has been dealing with a significant kidney issue this year. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports) (USA TODAY USPW / reuters)

Sunisa Lee, the reigning Olympic all-around gymnastics gold medalist, was absent from the 2023 Gymnastics World Championships due to the same kidney issue that ended her collegiate career at Auburn.

She went into detail on the effects of that issue with USA Today's Josh Peter. While declining to specify the specific illness, Lee said it caused her to gain 45 pounds this year.

“I couldn’t fit into any of my clothes,’’ Lee reportedly said Thursday. “My eyes were swollen shut. It was just so scary.’’

The good news is Lee reportedly appeared to be in the form in which she won all-around gold, as well as silver in the team event and bronze in the uneven bars, in Tokyo. She credited her improvement to a change in diet, specifically less sodium to lower water retention, and changing her approach to training.

She said she still has her bad days, but is still well ahead of where she used to be:

“I haven’t had a really bad day in a while,’’ Lee said. “But in the beginning it was like I was waking up swollen. My fingers were so swollen they wouldn’t fit into my grips and I couldn’t hold on to the bar. …

“My whole body was swollen because I was retaining water, so I couldn’t do a flip. … So it was really different and I had to learn how to work through it.’’

Lee stopped competing for Auburn in February, announcing the reason why two months later. She returned to competition in August, however, winning bronze in the beam at the U.S. Classic.

Her last appearance was in the U.S. Championships that same month, where she won bronze in the balance beam while Simone Biles punctuated her own comeback. She received an invite to the team selection camp for the World Championships, but declined due to her kidney issue.

Lee told USA Today she didn't want to risk something happening to her body in a non-Olympic year. Next year, with the Games scheduled to take place in Paris, will likely be a different story, but she made clear that she's not dwelling on that possibility in her recovery:

“Obviously the Olympics are always going to be in the back of my head,’’ she said. “But I wake up every morning and I’m not like, ‘Today’s going to get me to the Olympics.’… I’m not trying to think too far ahead because that can just add a lot of unwanted pressure and stress.’’