As the Winter Olympics take place in Beijing, you might have noticed the name of one particular athlete continuously cropping up—Eileen Gu.
The Chinese pro freestyle skier and fashion model has built her impressive profile enough in its own right—all by the age of 18, might we add—but it was one decision she made three years ago that truly propelled her to another level of fame.
Indeed, Gu was actually born to an American father and Chinese mother in the United States. It was there that she grew to love skiing. By 2018, she was representing the US in the world cup for the sport.
Then, she decided to switch from representing the US to representing China. It was a decision met with shock and confusion from her growing fan base, but Gu was firm, sharing her reasoning on Instagram at the time.
“This was an incredibly tough decision for me to make. I am proud of my heritage, and equally proud of my American upbringings,” she wrote in the announcement post posted in 2019.
“I am extremely thankful for U.S. Ski & Snowboard and the Chinese Ski Association for having the vision and belief in me to make my dreams come true… The opportunity to help inspire millions of young people where my mom was born, during the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help to promote the sport I love.”
She added: “Through skiing, I hope to unite people, promote common understanding, create communication, and forge friendships between nations. If I can help to inspire one young girl to break a boundary, my wishes will have come true.”
Becoming one of the biggest athletes in China
Following the announcement, Gu’s popularity in China increased ten-fold. She now has more than 2 million followers on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, and she’s garnered a bunch of huge sporting sponsorships.
Since competing for China, she’s also earned herself no less than seven first placings at the world championships across halfpipe, slope style and big air.
At this year’s Winter Olympics, her name has been splashed across major news sites both in China, and globally as a national icon who could bring home gold for the country.
Her influence is undeniable, as she headed into this year’s games, Gu shared a poignant update reflecting on how far she had come.
“I’ve always said my goal is to globally spread the sport I love to kids, especially girls, and to shift sport culture toward one motivated by passion,” she wrote, adding that more than 300 million Chinese people have now started playing winter sports for fun.
“I’m blown away by how far we have come,” she added.
She’s a fashion model
Signed with IMG Models, Gu has modelled in numerous campaigns for major high fashion brands including Fendi, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. She’s was also marie claire China’s cover star in September 2021.
That same month, Gu attended the Met Gala, a full circle moment reflecting the fact she still has strong ties to the US as well. For the occasion, she wore a striking Carolina Herrera bubble dress.
She also attended Paris Fashion Week in 2021, where she mingled with A-listers including Serena and Stacy Martin while sitting front row at Louis Vuitton.
At 18, Eileen isn’t stopping anytime soon. Along with her sporting and athletic commitments, she’s headed America’s Stanford University where she’ll study an undergraduate degree.
Her former coach has spoken highly of Gu’s intelligence, telling NY Post: “Eileen is incredibly smart and likes to make the skier boys feel dumb. She uses bigger words than they do. She talks about things that go beyond skiing and hanging out. She throws chemistry stuff at them.”