Eileen Gu executes a midair jump at the FIS Free Ski World Cup 2019 Slopestyle Event in Seiser Alm on January 25. (Photo: VCG)
On a midsummer day in Beijing, Eileen Gu stands outdoors in a thick ski suit. The 15-year-old girl smiles and introduces herself to the cameras, saying in Chinese "Hi, everyone, I'm Gu Ailing."
Gu had just become the first naturalized Chinese athlete to win a gold medal in the women's slopestyle event on August 16 at the Australian New Zealand Cup.
On June 7, Gu announced her naturalization as a Chinese citizen on her Instagram account. "I have decided to compete for China in the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics," reads the post.
I hope to promote ties between the Chinese and US people via X-sports, the Chinese-American girl said in her account on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media platform.
Gu's nationality has been changed from US to China on the International Ski Federation website.
Gu was born in 2003 in Los Angeles. Her father is an American and mother is Chinese. Gu started skiing when she was 3 years old and had been competing for the US in international events since the 2017/2018 season.
A Beijing girl
A fluent Chinese speaker, Gu calls herself a Beijing girl, and gets confused when people ask her why she speaks Chinese so well.
"I've never had a Chinese language class. Do I need to learn Chinese? Shouldn't it be something inside me?" said Gu, according to thepaper.cn.
Although Gu was born in the US, she would come back to Beijing every summer holiday.
"China is a very beautiful country with a lot of nice people, interesting things and delicious food. It [coming back to Beijing] is like going home," Gu said in a video when she was 14.
"Ever since I can remember, I've always thought about coming back to Beijing to play and eat every year," Gu said. "I don't remember my first time coming back to Beijing, but it's a part of my life."
Despite having to train in the high temperature outdoors, the girl does not make a single complaint. "I jogged every day when I was in Dubai, so I'm good."
Skiing has always been a hobby for the high school student rather than a profession. Gu does not spend too much time on the sport. Apart from asking the school for time off to attend games in different parts of the world, Gu barely puts time aside for training. "Since the skiing slopes used in the games are among the world's best, I can use the competition as training," said Gu.
Gu has been steeped in skiing life since she was a toddler, and her resume shows her obvious talent for the sport.
Gu started skiing when she was 3 years old, became champion of the junior group of the USA Snowboard and Freeski Association (USASA) when she was 9 and entered the adult group when she was 13.
The day before an event at Salt Lake City, which was also Gu's first competition in the adult group, she became sick and suffered from a severe sore throat.
"I had a fever of 42 C, and was sent into the emergency room, so I missed my training," Gu recalled in a video posted in her Sina Weibo. The next day, she won the championship in the event. By the time she was 14, she had won nine medals in the USASA games.
The website of the US Ski and Snowboard team shows that Gu won the USASA Freeski National Championships in eight of the nine events she competed in.
She earned her first World Cup victory at the FIS Freeski World Cup slopestyle in Italy when she was 15, according to the website.
By the end of last season, Gu had won more than 50 gold medals, boosting her chances of competing in major events such as the Olympic Games.
Keeping a balance
Gu had set herself an initial goal in preparation for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which was to graduate after completing two years of high school in just one year.
"The nearest ski resort is four hours' drive from where I live now. If I can graduate from high school next year, I will spend more time on my training to better prepare for the games in ," Gu told thepaper.cn.
According to Gu's mother, the school Gu attends is one of the best high schools in Los Angeles. If Gu graduates next year, she will become the first student in the school's history to complete two years of courses in one year.
"I am probably the first professional athlete in my school," Gu added. "I treat myself as a professional skier during the game season."
In addition to skiing, the 15-year-old loves jogging, horse riding, rock climbing and basketball. Outside of school, Gu only spends one sixth of her time on skiing, as she believes that maintaining a good balance is crucial.
"Only through balance among different hobbies can I be more focused and efficient in each part," she explained.
"I will go to college, since study is very important," Gu said, detailing her plans after the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games. "At that time, skiing will be my hobby again."
Gu is currently going through training in New Zealand, and plans to go to Europe next. Meanwhile, she is also trying to get into the Olympic Games.
"No one wants to be last in the Olympic Games, but there's no way for me to take the gold medal without making a single effort," she joked.