Chinese-American skiing phenom Eileen Gu picked up the first Olympic medal of her promising young career on Tuesday morning after narrowly finishing in the top spot at the women’s freeski big air finals, adding another notch to Team China’s list of wins at this year’s Winter Games in Beijing.
18-year-old Gu, who is rapidly becoming a cultural icon in her mother’s native China, began her final jump trailing France’s Tess Ledeux and Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud. After successfully landing the ambitious “double left 1620 with a safety grab,” she let off a triumphant shout before dropping to the ground, overcome with emotion as the crowd anxiously awaited the announcement of her score.
The final tally saw judges award Gu with a total of 188.25 points, just a fraction above silver-medal winner Ledeux at 187.5. Gremaud took bronze with 182.5.
Eileen Gu, or Gǔ Aìlíng 谷爱凌, was born in San Francisco to a Chinese mother and an American father. In a prominent decision that has raised some eyebrows in the US, Gu has elected to represent the People’s Republic of China at this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.
In a post-competition interview with domestic media, Gu, who is fluent in Mandarin, professed that “this is the happiest day of [her] life,” adding that she had chosen the difficult 1620 jump for her final attempt because, in her words: “I wanted to be my best, to show my ability to the world.”
Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee, was in attendance at the finals, held at a dedicated sporting facility located in the industrial western outskirts of Beijing called Big Air Shougang.
Word of Gu’s triumph spread quickly on Chinese social media, surging to the top of domestic micro-blogging platform Weibo’s list of hot topics. One user commented: “I felt that the French athlete was a little flustered after watching [Gu]’s last jump. [Gu]’s mentality was more relaxed…Anyway, congratulations to the Frog Princess!” Gu’s official username on Weibo is “Frog Princess Ailing” (青蛙公主爱凌 Qīngwā Gōngzhǔ Aìlíng), a nickname she gave herself after buying a green ski helmet with a frog design online.
The gold medal won by Gu on Tuesday represents China’s third so far at the 2022 Games, placing the country in a tie for first with Sweden at the time of publication. In addition to her top finish at the freeski big air competition, Gu will now focus on the upcoming slopestyle and halfpipe events, in which she is also considered a favorite to win medals.
Gu has exhibited a knack for self-promotion, establishing partnerships with a series of leading brands including Estée Lauder, Victoria’s Secret, Louis Vuitton and Cadillac. Such efforts have served to boost her name recognition globally, but perhaps nowhere quite as much as the lucrative Chinese mainland.