Chinese-American skier Eileen Gu is one of the more compelling stories in these Olympics. With a cheerleader’s passion for support that underlines what some would call youthful exuberance and longstanding advocacy for women’s athletics that shows wisdom well beyond traditional expectations, she’s got a whole lot of it.
Gu, 18, will compete for host nation China in the 2022 Winter Olympics in freestyle skiing, and her zeal for the sport and the evolution of women’s sports extends way back.
In fact, as Gu shows in the above video, she’s been speaking out on things like Title IX in a public way since middle school. Given her age that’s only a half-dozen years ago, but… well… you get the idea. Impressive stuff.
“I’ve kinda had the same message forever,” Gu said. “All my goals, you can see they go way back. To be able to see that progress over the span of more than half of my life time is super rewarding. Super rewarding.”
The New York Times calls Gu, known as Gu Ailing in China, a “dominant skier and a budding supermodel” overseas and there’s a chance for her to become one of the breakout stories of the Games. It also asks whether she can bear the burden of being all things to all people.
That’s only for those who don’t know the teenager already. After all, Gu’s already done the whole Met Gala thing at her tender age, also spending time with five-time Olympic medalist Venus Williams not in an athletic setting, but a fashion show.
She’s also someone who elected to represent China in 2019 over her birth nation, something Team USA surely rues, and that’s a storyline that will check a lot of boxes for fans, media, and neutrals at an Olympics that threatens to tote political overtones around like a Louis Vuitton clutch.
To underscore the tension, Gu’s mother Yan has declined at least one interview when the publication refused to limit the scope of questions and grant review before publication. Gu, in the NYT piece, claimed to “pass” on difficult cultural questions, claiming a desire for inclusivity.
This is really a tough situation for her, and it’s a very delicate situation for her to navigate. There’s not much room for error for her.
Fair or foul, it seems like Gu is going to be a teenage case study in pressure … and an awful lot of it. Will she be allowed to figure out life on her own terms or will she become stuck between two very different cultures that both want unity without much compromise? And you thought doing death-defying aerial ski tricks was tough. Perhaps that’s why the on-snow pressure doesn’t get to her; The rest of her life has plenty of tension packed into it.