America up in arms over Winter Olympian's shock defection to China

Eileen Gu, pictured here celebrating after winning in the women's freeski halfpipe competition at the US Grand Prix in January.
Eileen Gu celebrates after winning in the women's freeski halfpipe competition at the US Grand Prix in January. (Getty Images)

A number of American athletes at the Winter Olympics have reportedly questioned the decision of teenage prodigy Eileen Gu to switch allegiances and compete for China.

The 18-year-old, who is also a model, was born in California to an American father and Chinese mother, but represents China after switching allegiances in 2019.

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“I have decided to compete for China in the 2022 Winter Olympics,” Gu announced at the time.

“The opportunity to help inspire millions of young people where my mum was born, during the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help promote the sport I love.”

Gu's defection is a loss for America but a big win for the Olympic hosts, and the 18-year-old underlined why on an explosive debut last year at the 2021 X Games, where she won two golds — a first for a female rookie at the event.

However not everyone within the American camp is happy about it.

“It is not my place to judge, but Eileen is from California, not from China, and her decision seems opportunistic,” Jen Hudak, former Winter X Games gold medallist told the New York Post.

“She became the athlete she is because she grew up in the United States, where she had access to premier training grounds and coaching that, as a female, she might not have had in China.

“I think she would be a different skier if she grew up in China.

"This makes me sad. It would be nice to see the medals going to America.”

And according to the New York Post, a number of other American athletes are also up in arms.

Eileen Gu, pictured here competing at the US Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain in January.
Eileen Gu competes at the US Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain in January. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

China latches onto Eileen Gu for Winter Olympics

Gu arrived in the Chinese capital last week, posting a picture of herself eating dumplings on her Weibo social media account, to the delight of her 1.3 million followers.

A fluent Mandarin speaker with a distinct Beijing accent, Chinese state media has quickly latched onto its newfound star, eagerly covering her public appearances and numerous commercial deals.

State television filmed her feasting on Peking duck and admiring Tiananmen Square last year as the program host praised her "positive energy".

China doesn't allow dual nationality so taking a Chinese passport should have meant abandoning her US one, though Gu has not confirmed this is the case.

Eileen Gu, pictured here at the 2021 Met Gala in New York City.
Eileen Gu at the 2021 Met Gala in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue )

She recently told Time Magazine that she had received death threats from online trolls angry about her switch to Team China.

Her record-breaking performance at the X Games - where Gu was the first Chinese winner - prompted state media Xinhua to run a 1000-word feature asking if she was the "next Chinese sports icon?"

She is known in China as Gu Ailing, as well as by the affectionate nickname "frog princess" after a green helmet she wore in competition.

"In the US, I grew up with all these idols and I wanted to be that for somebody else," she told sponsor Red Bull in an interview.

"I get so many messages from Chinese kids saying I'm the reason for them to take up skiing."

A fashion fan and part-time model, Gu has featured in Chinese Vogue and Cosmopolitan, while speaking out against harmful diet culture and racism.

She is also an avid cross-country runner, although she told Chinese state broadcaster CCTV that her mother had forbidden her from doing any "dangerous sports" other than skiing.

The pressure is mounting on the young athlete to shine at the Beijing Games, with just days to go until the opening ceremony.

"I'm really excited but I don’t think that anybody going to the Olympics would ever say they are 100 percent ready," Gu told the International Olympic Committee website.

"The only thing I can do is my best on the day.

"If that is a gold medal then I’ll be super-hyped, and if that is not, then I will still be super-hyped because I work hard."

with AFP

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