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U.S.-Born Freestyle Skier Eileen Gu Wins Gold Medal for China

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Eileen Gu won gold for Team China on Tuesday at the women’s freeski big air event, landing her first-ever 1620 in competition on her final run to topple France’s Tess Ledeux.

Gu is one of the most high-profile athletes at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, both for her talent as a skier and for her decision to represent Team China despite being born in the United States. So far, she’s certainly living up to the hype. 

According to ESPN, Beijing 2022 is the first Winter Olympics to feature freeski big air, and Gu and Ledeux are the first two women ever to land a 1620 (four-and-a-half rotations) in a professional freeskiing competition. Ledeux also won the X Games big air contest just days before flying to China.

After landing the challenging trick in her third run, Gu shrieked and fell to her knees before telling reporters, “I’m not crying. I’m definitely not crying.” 

That final run pushed Gu to first place, bumping Ledeux, who landed the same trick in round one (albeit with a wobble) to second. Upon seeing her score — 94.50, Gu clutched her helmet with excitement. But it wasn’t quite over. 

Ledeux attempted a huge switch 1440 in her final run, but she landed with a ski in the air and wasn’t able to upset the standings. 

The center podium went to Gu with a cumulative score of 188.25, just 0.75 points higher than Ledeux, while Mathilde Gremauld of Switzerland took third place. 

Born to a Chinese mother and American father in San Francisco, Gu, whose Chinese name is Gu Ailing, grew up in a Chinese household speaking Mandarin. She’s visited China every year since she was a toddler. 

She announced her decision to compete for China in the 2022 Olympics back in 2019 and drew an immediate wave of backlash, including death threats and a slew of racist comments online. 

Indeed, some of the more laughable segments of right-wing American media (here’s looking at you, Tucker Carlson) are still having meltdowns about her big move.

But the 18-year-old has stood by her decision, explaining in an Instagram post that while she is proud of her American upbringing, she hopes to inspire more Chinese women to engage with the sport. 

“Through skiing, I hope to unite people, promote common understanding, create communication, and forge friendships between nations,” Gu wrote. “If I can help to inspire one young girl to break a boundary, my wishes will have come true.”

Gu made history in 2021 as the first woman to win two golds and one bronze at the X Games in her rookie year, and she’s a favorite in two more events still to come in Beijing: slopestyle and halfpipe.

Cover image: screengrab via Twitter

Jesse Pottinger
    Jesse is a Vancouver-based journalist who spent four back-to-back summers living in Guangzhou and working with That’s magazines. He currently serves as a remotely-based junior editor with RADII. Jesse has spent considerable time traveling around China over the past half-decade and has something of a passion for dumplings. You can follow his adventures on Instagram at @messy_jesse.
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