Why is Eileen Gu skiing for China?

The American ski star has been candid about her thought process and upcoming plans as she prepares for a potentially record-breaking end to the Olympics.

BEIJING, China — Another Olympic gold medal is hers. Eileen Gu has bigger goals than that.

The 18-year-old freeskiing star, who is as easy to spot on magazine covers as she is on the ski slopes, explained it all in a Q&A after went through their qualifying round Thursday on the halfpipe.

In the final, Gu will try to add to the gold (big air) and silver (slopestyle) medals she already won at the Beijing Games. She hasn’t lost a match all season in halfpipe.

If she succeeds, wins the gold medal and becomes the first action sports athlete to win three medals at the same Olympics, she is well aware that this will not dampen the speculation and silence the critics who ask why a teenager born in the United States would choose to ski for China on the biggest stage of his sport.

“I’m glad you asked the question,” she said when asked the first of a series of questions about her nationality, her mission and her future as she held court in the interview area.

“People sometimes don’t know what to do with other people when they don’t fit in a box,” said the skier, whose mother emigrated to the United States around 30 years ago. “They say, ‘Is she Chinese? Is she American? Is she a model? Is she a student? Why is she trying to change the world when she’s only 18?

Gu is also an excellent pianist, a damn good skier, a marketer’s dream – according to the unofficial Associated Press tally, she has at least 23 sponsors – and someone who isn’t afraid to say what she thinks.

She can keep things light – discuss what she has for lunch (dumpling one day, pork bun the next), what she writes in her daily diary (After her money in slopestyle: “I’m fresh . I’m not tired.”) and how she brought her beloved truffle oil to China.

She’s far too quick with a story, or a quip, to be portrayed as — as some of her critics suggest — a trained, pre-scripted purveyor of rote talking points programmed specifically for that moment.

“I’m not trying to solve political issues right now,” she said, offering a pushback to those who suggest skiing for China somehow implies her wholehearted endorsement of the country’s government and its people. policies. “And I’m aware that I’m not able to do all the things I want to do right now.”

She learned to ski in the United States and trained with the American team for years. When it came to figuring out what uniform to wear for the Beijing Games, she thought about it and felt she would have a bigger impact if she could bring action sports to a wider audience in a country. uneventful in the snow.

“My biggest goal is for a girl to be sitting at home watching freeskiing for the first time and thinking, ‘Maybe that could be me someday,'” Gu said. “Maybe she sees someone who looks like her doing it and thinks, ‘Hey, I can do it too. “”

There are between 9 and 12 million skiers in the United States, depending on which stats you use — and a fraction of those terrain parks, like Gu lit up most of his life and at the Olympics. China, whose population has quadrupled, had 10.8 million skiers last winter, according to a “White Book published by the Chinese Economic Publishing House.

But Gu told a story last year of going to trampoline camps during her annual visits to China when she was younger.

“At the time, I was basically meeting the whole Chinese skiing community at once,” she said.

This sowed a seed: she would like to see the sport develop in her mother’s country of origin. That the mission is to make her rich and turn her into a multinational superstar seems to be more of a by-product, if her account is to be believed, than the ultimate goal.

“I’m doing what I can, and that’s what matters,” Gu said. “If people don’t agree with that, then I encourage them to do what they can and make the world a better place in any way they want. But don’t criticize me.

Most of these reviews come from the internet with some nuance by conservative media in Fox News’ Tucker Carlson USA: “It’s ungrateful of her to turn her back on the country that not only raised her, but turned her into a world-class skier.”

While, indeed, the US Ski Team funds young talent like Gu, at no time has it paid all the bills. Sponsorships and equity from the Gu family also helped pay for the journey. If there’s any animosity within Team USA for what some see as its abandonment of the people who brought it through the ranks, it’s not overtly visible on the mountain.

“The Olympics have put more emphasis on the nationalistic aspect of our sport,” said American skier Brita Sigourney. “It was never a thing.”

It’s often forgotten amid all the talk of Gu’s nationality that action sports — snowboarding and freeskiing — traditionally care the least about which flag the uniform is on.

“You go into the dining room with the teams and you always see snowboarders from different countries mingling together,” snowboard manager Donna Burton Carpenter said in an interview earlier this winter. “It always felt more like the Olympic spirit than having these nationalist teams.”

Gu said she felt that vibe every day. The country she skis for is an important thing, of course. But not the only thing.

“I’ve never had any kind of hate, never had any kind of negativity from any of my friends, anyone in the industry, or anyone I know in person,” Gu said. “It’s just people who don’t know. So in that sense, I feel like the United States made me who I am. China made me who I am, and I am infinitely grateful.