“Gu Ailing, jiayou [vamos]! 1, 2, 3, 4… Oh my God!” These are the words of the Chinese commentators in the video that floods the social networks of the most populous country on the planet this Tuesday. Eighteen-year-old skier Eileen Gu, known in China by her Mandarin name Ailing, won her first Olympic gold in the big air in freestyle skiing. The young skier is a media magnet who has captured the national and international spotlight not only for her undoubted sports skills, but also for her story: born and raised in San Francisco, but of Chinese roots, Gu competes on behalf of the red flag of five stars instead of his native United States, a decision made in a context marked by the greatest tensions in bilateral relations between Beijing and Washington in decades.
Eileen has not disappointed her more than demanding fans in the Chinese capital despite starting with a disadvantage after qualifying for the women’s final of big air. The snow princess With her third and last jump, she has snatched the gold metal from last month’s champion of the X Games in Aspen (Colorado, USA), the French Tess Ledeux. With a double 1620 (jump that involves performing four somersaults in the air and landing on her back), Gu has won “at home” this modality that, like her, debuts in a Winter Games. “I can not believe it. She had never attempted this jump before. I got carried away with the moment and just wanted to enjoy it,” she admitted.
To consecrate her victory, the young athlete has had to deal with enormous pressure due to the fact that she competes in front of an audience that idolizes her, and persecuted by the controversy of why she changed flags at the age of 15. Born and raised in San Francisco by her mother and grandmother – her father is only known to be American – Gu, who bears her mother’s surname and speaks perfect Mandarin, made the decision to compete for China in 2019, having won in the category of slope style the World Freestyle Ski Championships in Italy, representing the United States.
“The opportunity to inspire millions of young people during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics by promoting the sport I love, in the city where my mother was born, is once in a lifetime. Through skiing I hope to bring people together, promote understanding, create communication and forge friendship between nations. If I can inspire a girl to break barriers, my dream will have come true, ”she expressed on her Instagram account when she chose to leave the American team, in the midst of a trade war between the two largest economies in the world.
Her choice of national flag has made her a figure that arouses diametrically opposed feelings: while in the Asian giant she is idolized and pampered, the press and many American fans criticize her harshly, accusing her of putting commercial interests before her authentic origin, to the detriment of the nation in which he was trained as an athlete and where he will continue his university studies.
She, still without the political maturity that is often required of public figures, forgetting that they are teenagers, has remained on the sidelines of political friction. Probably following advice from his close circle rather than out of conviction, at the insistence of some media outlets, he has at all times avoided taking a position on the alleged abuses by the Chinese government against the Uyghur ethnic minority in Xinjiang or the protests in Hong Kong, issues that led to United States to start a diplomatic plot against the Games.
“When I am in the United States, I am an American; when I am in China, I am Chinese ”, she has settled repeatedly. It is unclear what their immigration status is, since China does not recognize dual nationality and the International Olympic Committee requires athletes to have a passport from the country they represent. Her case could have been covered by the expansion of the regulations in 2020 to grant permanent residence permits to foreigners who have achieved international recognition in areas such as sports, science and culture.
What is clear is that China loves Gu Ailing. Her face stars in most of the advertising campaigns in the streets of the capital: skiing, she promotes the world’s largest telephone operator, China Mobile; wearing a traditional cheongsam, announces e-commerce giant JD.com; he also poses drinking Lukin Coffee, Starbucks’ Chinese competitor; at night, the image of him with teams from the third largest sports brand on the planet, Anta Sports, occupies a huge screen that lights up a popular shopping mall. He has recently graced the cover of Chinese editions of Vogue, Cosmopolitan and in InStyle.
Meanwhile, in the West its value is also rising through the roof: it is the face of Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s and Victoria’s Secret and has been invited to the latest editions of Paris Fashion Week and the MET Gala in New York. In accordance with The Economist, an advertising contract with the teenager exceeds two million dollars. According to the British magazine, Gu pocketed more than 15 million dollars in 2021, a figure that makes her the third athlete with the highest annual income, behind tennis players Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, largely thanks to that star status. of its more than 20 Chinese sponsors.
At just 18 years old, his sports record as a star leaves no room for debate. Since she broke into international competitions, she has been the most dominant athlete over her opponents in recent years in the three Olympic freestyle skiing events in which she competes. Gold medal at the Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games in the categories of big air Y half pipeand silver in slopestyle, Gu was also the first woman to perform a double 1440 (a figure of four 360-degree rotations and two somersaults over 20 meters high) and the first Chinese woman to win at the X Games last January, where she imposed on super pipe Y slope styleand the bronze was hung on big air, performance that earned her to be the only skier who has achieved three medals in her debut in the quarter century of history of this competition. She is, as if that were not enough, the current world champion of half pipe Y slope stylemodalities in which she will start as a great candidate for the highest seat on the podium next week in Beijing.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.