Eileen Gu is a face you’re likely to see a lot more of in the coming weeks. Being the poster girl for the hosts of an Olympics will tend to have that effect.
Gu’s presence in China is already huge, with the 18-year-old instantly recognisable from any number of advertising and sponsorship deals in the country. The Winter Games are only increasing the fanfare around this exceptional freestyle skier.
They actually present a rare occasion for Gu to grace the country with her physical presence, too. After all, she does live in the United States. In fact, she was born there, too.
It is perhaps the most intriguing element to the teenager’s story, that despite her upbringing in San Francisco, learning to ski at Lake Tahoe and being immersed in American culture, the pull to represent the country of her mother’s birth has proven too strong.
While she represented the States until the age of 15, it is while performing under the Five-star Red Flag that Gu’s career has soared – despite the controversy surrounding her switch.
China’s golden girl appears fearless, seamlessly making the switch from the youth to the senior circuit.
She has also embraced opportunities away from the slopes, with a modelling career every bit as demanding as her ski training. Throw in a place at Stanford University and an ability to speak out on matters of social interest and it’s clear that Gu is far from your average sports star.
Eileen Gu is the poster girl for China at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing next month
The teenager was born in the US but has chosen to represent the birth country of her mother
Gu has a huge following on social media and has more than 208,000 followers on Instagram, and she has already appeared on the front cover of Vogue magazine in China (right)
Born in the States to an American father, Gu’s mother Yan, a keen skier herself, was the catalyst for her career on the slopes, booking her lessons so her daughter could keep up with her.
She kept up all right, and then some, eventually pulling away into the competitive ranks. Her ability was plain to see even at the age of 16, when she starred in the Winter Youth Olympics in Lausanne.
Less than a year after her formal request to the International Ski Federation to switch allegiances, Gu won two gold medals at the 2020 event in the big air and halfpipe events. She also picked up silver in slopestyle.
If that didn’t make the freestyle world sit up and take notice, her performance at her first X Games 12 months later forced them to.
Gu landed gold across two events – superpipe and slopestyle – as well as a bronze in the Big Air competition. In doing so, she became the first Chinese athlete to win gold, and the first rookie to walk away with three medals.
Gu sent shockwaves around the skiing world with her performance at the X Games in Aspen
The 18-year-old is already a famous face in China, with millions of views on her Weibo account
There was more to come just a month later, when she followed up her X Games success with more history at the World Championships in Aspen.
Once again she came away with two golds, as well as another bronze, becoming the first ever skier to win multiple titles at the same World Championships as she competed in halfpipe, slopestyle, and Big Air – the same three in which she will compete in Beijing. What made her feat even more impressive was doing so with a broken hand, a 17-year-old Gu having fractured her thumb during practice.
Pushing boundaries is something that comes naturally to her. She did so once again last November, pulling off the world’s first double cork 1440.
The move, which contains four screws and two somersaults, was pulled off while she was training in Austria and is expected to be part of her repertoire in Beijing. She posted the feat on her Instagram, describing it as a ‘lil world first’.
Her ability has led to her amassing a huge online following. Even at just 18, there are few in the world of winter sports who can lay claim to the global appeal Gu possesses.
Gu became the first person ever to pull off the freestyle move known as the double cork 1440
While her 208,000 followers on Instagram look like impressive numbers, those are dwarfed by her following on Chinese social media.
After her X Games victory in 2021, she posted about her success on Sina Weibo. That post alone was viewed a whopping 23 million times.
While the majority of her followers are there to share in her exciting rise, some have taken to criticise Gu over her stance on nationality.
Chinese law states that dual citizenship is forbidden, and so technically Gu should have renounced her US status when switching allegiances in 2019.
However, as she was only 15 at the time, US laws mean she would have been unable to do just that.
Eileen Gu poses with her mother Yan Gu, her inspiration for her freestyle skiing journey
As well as her prodigious skiing career, Gu has worked as a model and has huge global appeal
It had originally been accepted that Gu had relinquished her US citizenship – with her main sponsors Red Bull stating so on their website. However, that mention has since been removed, and Gu herself has been bullish when asked about the subject.
‘Nobody can deny I’m American, nobody can deny I’m Chinese,’ she stated in an interview with the South China Morning Post in 2021.
Not afraid to speak her mind, Gu also hit out at anti-Asian sentiment in the US during the pandemic, after reports of China being at fault for the spread of Covid-19 intensified.
A teenager with such a strong personality, it is unsurprising that she has academic pursuits in her sights, too.
Her mother originally came across from China to study in the States at Stanford University. Gu is set to look likewise after earning a place, though that is on hold as she puts all her efforts into success on the slopes.
One thing that has not taken a back seat is her modelling career. She is signed to IMG and has appeared on Vogue and Elle front covers in China. She has also worked with Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co, with photoshoots sporadically punctuating her Instagram posts of time spent with family, friends and on the slopes.
Gu will be hoping the next picture she can post involves a gold medal, rather than a gold necklace.
A Red Bull athlete, Gu has deferred her entry to Stanford University to focus on the Olympics