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Snow queen

Freestyle skier gives up US nationality to represent China in Olympics


Eileen Gu: model skier who speaks Mandarin

Who is she?

Eileen Gu – also known by her Chinese name, Gu Ailing – was born in 2003 in San Francisco. The 16 year-old freestyle skier first developed a love for skiing when her mother, a Beijing native and a part-time skiing instructor, brought her to her first ski lesson when she was just three. Her mother never personally coached Gu on how to ski, but the athlete told the Chinese edition of Harper’s Bazaar that her mum always made sure that she “ate well and slept well”.

Why is she famous?

Gu, whose father is American, got her first win at the age of nine in the juniors’ group of the USASA National Championships. Last June, she gave up her US nationality to become a Chinese national. In the same announcement, she also said she wanted to represent China at the Olympic Winter Games in 2022, which will be hosted in Beijing (see WiC390). The skier next grabbed headlines when she won two gold medals for China at the Australia New Zealand Cup in August. She was in the news again last month when she won her first halfpipe and slopestyle categories at the World Cup event in Calgary.

While the Olympics allow athletes with dual citizenship to choose which country to represent, Gu was required to give up her American passport because China does not recognise dual nationality. Many speculated that she changed her nationality because the US team is much more competitive when it comes to skiing. Gu is not the first naturalised athlete to represent China. British-born soccer player Nico Yennaris, for instance, was given a spot on the country’s national football squad last year.

Is she popular in China?

“I am proud of my mother’s heritage, and equally proud of my American upbringing. The opportunity to help inspire millions of young people where my mom was born, during the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help promote the sport I love,” she wrote on Instagram (Gu is fluent in Mandarin).

“Welcome you to fight for the honour of China!” said one of the most ‘liked’ comments on Gu’s weibo.

“For China, the increase of overseas-born talent is only going to increase competition for the Chinese-born athletes, resulting in short-term improvements in results but a long-term rise in standards for all Chinese athletes,” was Xinhua’s supportive comment.

China has traditionally been stronger on ice but weaker on snow. The last time the country won a championship medal in a snow sport was in 2006 when skier Han Xiaopeng took victory at the freestyle aerial skills championship at the Torino Winter Olympics.

Gu is also a part-time model. She attended Paris Fashion Week last year and says her trips to China can be “super-crazy” – she told the she did six photo shoots and four events during a single five- day visit, for instance.

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