The face that launched China’s campaign for winter sports
China’s Global Times has called her the “freeski superstar”, and said the US-born teen was likely to be “the face of the Beijing Games”.
She has appeared on bus-stop ads and campaigns promoting winter sports, which are catching on fast in China.
As the Chinese capital prepares to become the first city to host both the summer and winter Olympics, the spotlight is clearly on Eileen Gu Ailing, 18.
The freestyle skier, born in San Francisco to an American father and a Chinese mother, has been competing for China since 2019, and is a favourite to pick up medals in the halfpipe, slopestyle, and big air events.
She is also a model who has been featured in magazines such as Vogue and Elle and has appeared for Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co, and is set to follow her mother into the elite Stanford University in California.
Her mother picked up skiing after moving to the US as a student, and has been keen on the snow sport ever since.
This meant Gu hit the slopes at a young age, and she quickly became hooked.
“I’ve probably been an adrenaline junkie from day one,” she told Time magazine.
She has picked up a number of medals already, including at the Winter Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, two years ago.
In November, she pulled off what is known as a double cork 1440, a world first. The move, which contains four screws and two somersaults, was achieved while she was training in Austria, and was expected to be part of her repertoire in Beijing. It was a “lil world first”, she said on Instagram.
Gu speaks fluent Mandarin and has regularly visited Beijing, where her mother was born.
But there are questions over her citizenship, the Voice of America reported.
There used to be a message on the website of Red Bull, one of her sponsors, saying she had “decided to give up her American passport and naturalize as a Chinese citizen”.
But after US media tried to confirm her citizenship status, the message was removed. China does not allow dual citizenship, though the US does.
“Nobody can deny I'm American, nobody can deny I'm Chinese,” she was quoted as saying in an interview.
In the US, she has spoken out against the anti-Asian sentiment that has cropped up during the pandemic, but in China she has not been as vocal, and seems careful to steer clear of controversy.
The US and some other countries have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing games, citing concerns over China’s human rights record. When asked about this, Gu would not comment, Time reported.
In an interview in 2020, Gu had said: "Since I was little, I've always said when I'm in the US, I'm American, but when I'm in China, I'm Chinese."
But she does believe in the unifying nature of sport.
“It’s really easy to use sport as a form of unity and communication and friendship, because everybody is working toward a common goal,” she was quoted as saying. “Because sport really is blind to race, gender, religion and nationality; it’s all just about pushing the human limit.”