With just over a month to go until the Beijing Winter Olympics kick off on 4 February, half Chinese freeskiing prodigy Eileen Gu Ailing looks set to impress on all stages.
Who is Eileen Gu?
18-year old Eileen Gu was born in San Francisco to a Chinese mother and American father. She began skiing aged just three and by the time she was nine had become champion at the USA Snowboard and Freeski Junior Association.
Gu’s success has been stellar. She clinched her first World Cup victory in freeskiing in 2019 and took gold in Halfpipe and silver in Slopestyle at the 2020 Youth Games. In her first appearance at the X Games, she made history when she became the first-ever female rookie to win three medals.
Most recently, she bagged two gold medals in three days at the FIS World Cup (30 December 2021 and 1 January 2022). Her wins came despite losing her passport, almost missing her flight and arriving on the day of competition without her mother or coach.
Eileen Gu Ethnicity
In June 2019, Gu announced her naturalisation as a Chinese citizen and since then has represented China internationally.
Explaining her decision, Gu said: “I have been thinking about competing for China since I was 11, when the announcement was made that the Olympics would take place in China. After the announcement, China set a goal of putting 300 million people on snow to raise awareness for snow sports before 2022. Just being able to inspire people to start trying has been one of my biggest goals.
“For me, I would look up to all these American or Canadian skiers, but then I would go to China and see no parallels because the sport didn’t really exist at a professional level there. Essentially, it comes back to representation — I wanted to inspire more people to pick up skiing in China because it’s brought me so much more than medals.”
Leveraging her Mixed Ethnicity
As an Olympic ambassador, Gu has been working closely with Beijing 2022 in preparation for the Winter Olympics. Leveraging her ability to speak Mandarin and English fluently – Gu grew up with her grandmother, who only speaks Mandarin, and visited China every summer growing up – Gu is inspiring young girls worldwide to participate in sports.
But skiing is not the only string to Gu’s bow. After she was invited to Paris Fashion Week by a Chinese Brand in 2019, she launched into her modelling career, and has since featured in the Chinese editions of Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Cosmopolitan and Vogue. To her vast social media following in China, she is nicknamed the ‘Snow Princess’.
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Plus, after scoring a near-perfect 1580 on her SATs in fall 2020, Gu earned early acceptance to Stanford. She has deferred her entry until after the 2022 Beijing Games so she can, for the first time, focus completely on skiing.
Gu explains how she believes her mixed ethnicity has helped her become more adaptable, resilient and supported her in many (seemingly contrasting) pursuits:
“Because I grew up with that duality, I can accept differences more easily. I can also shift to adapt to different circumstances. I’ve created a more malleable personality for myself, in a sense.”
“So not just culturally, but also now with skiing and the fashion spheres, or growing up in an all-girls school and then all of a sudden being the only girl in an all-boys ski team. I’m able to adapt to any environment that I’m in and find my duty in each one.”