Security measures force local Olympians to show up virtually at the send-off event

Like so many events over the past 16 months, a scheduled start for the Minnesota Olympians at the State Fairgrounds on Saturday had to make a last-minute adjustment. Organizers say they received a belated message from Team USA that local gymnasts Suni Lee and Grace McCallum would not be allowed to greet fans in person.

“Hi guys!” Lee shouted over a Zoom connection to a large TV on stage at the Leinie Lodge Bandshell. “We really appreciate everyone’s support, but I would really like to be here to see you all.”

Lee and McCallum were also joined, virtually, by their men’s team member, Shane Wiskus, a University of Minnesota alum who moved to Colorado Springs after the school scrapped its men’s gymnastics program the last year.

“I just want to… reiterate my gratitude to the State of Minnesota and all the support I’ve had from everyone back home,” Wiskus said.

Grace McCallum’s coaches were among those who attended the farewell, including Steve Hafeman.

“She’s a great example of hard work and maintaining a positive attitude through tough times,” Hafeman said.

The crowd of supporters included several young gymnasts who attend the same gym as McCallum and were disappointed to learn they wouldn’t be able to see her in person.

“I don’t really know her, but I’m still really excited for her,” said 8-year-old Arianna Gayle, who was there with her dad.

“It was really out of our control to do that,” Hafeman said of Lee and McCallum staying home. “But keep them safe, bring them to Tokyo and go from there.”

John Roethlisberger, a Minnesota native and three-time Olympian, also joined via video conference to offer words of wisdom and encouragement.

“Go out there and be yourself! Be Suni, be Grace, be Shane,” Roethlisberger said. “Be the best version of yourself that you know you are. And don’t try to be anything else.”

Organizers say they are raising funds for the Minnesota Olympians with the aim of enabling them to travel first class from San Francisco to Tokyo next week.

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Susan W. Lloyd