Chinese or American– Why Can’t Olympic Skier Eileen Gu Be Both?

Written by: Ines

Edited by: Jessica

Visual by: Mischka

As an Olympic gold medalist, incoming freshman at Stanford University, and model for luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co., it seems there is little to nothing 18-year old skier, Eileen Gu, can’t do. However, it appears that Gu has been facing quite a number of challenges recently when it comes to simultaneously pleasing the people from the two countries she calls home: China and the United States.

On February 8, 2022, Eileen Gu jumped right into the spotlight after making history with a 94.50 in the Freeski Big Air Competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics for Team China. Though Gu was born and raised in the United States, she recalls “spending 25-30% of every year in China” and is ethnically Chinese, therefore is well within her right to represent whichever country she chooses.

After she announced that she would be joining China’s Olympic team, Gu received abundant praise from the Chinese people, having been dubbed their “Snow Princess.” She has also reportedly earned over $31.4 million from endorsement deals with some of China’s most prominent companies, such as Bank of China, Anta, JD.com, as well as global brands in the likes of Esteé Lauder, Cadillac, and Victoria Secret. However, Gu’s decision did not come as good news to a great deal of Americans on the other side of the world. “Media outlets have portrayed her as a bratty Gen Z-er who is oblivious to the world around her,” wrote CNN in regards to Gu’s current situation. Right-wing Fox News guest Will Cain expressed that “It’s ungrateful for her to turn her back on the country that not just raised her, but turned her into a world-class skier.” Additionally, one TikTok user took to Gu’s personal page and commented, “Why China tho…you grew up in San Francisco 💰” on one of her videos, to which she responded “Cry ab it.”  

But unlike her response to the constant criticism she received regarding her decision, Gu has visibly dodged questions from reporters regarding her citizenship status. When asked about whether or not she remains a US citizen, or her future plans for residency, her replies to reporters’ dismay are often along the lines of, “I definitely feel as though I’m just as American as I am Chinese. I am American when I am in the US, I am Chinese when I am in China. I’ve been outspoken about my gratitude to both the US and China for making me the person I am.” However, the plot only thickened when Red Bull, one of the skier’s primary sponsors, shared that Gu had renounced her American citizenship, but later retracted the statement after questioning, which highlights the sensitivity and just how delicate the situation may be. The athlete’s desire to keep this personal information private is unsurprising and understandable, as apart from being an Olympic athlete, she is too a teenager, essentially a third culture kid, caught in between two opposite worlds. “The experience of being a third culture kid is extremely unique as it provides you with the opportunity to feel at home in more than one culture. ” says ISM student Marijn. But while there are countless benefits and advantages of being third culture kids, some find handling the subject of cultural identity profoundly challenging on its own, an even greater difficulty is posed for Gu as she must process this under the public eye, vulnerable to criticism.

If one were to peruse the Olympic rule book, a line can be found that states, “A competitor who is a national of two or more countries at the same time may represent either one of them, as he may elect.” And because of this, people have not scrutinized the Chinese Olympic hockey team that consists of more than three white North Americans who took on different names and “know two or three words [in Chinese]”. Nor have they become infuriated by the fact that Israel’s 2007 Men’s Team in the World Baseball Classic had a roster that was made up of nearly all Americans who failed to make the cut to the US team. But for some inapprehensible reason, when a woman, or in Gu’s case, an 18-year old girl chooses to represent the country of her heritage, the situation bursts into an online furious frenzy; turning her into an “ungrateful brat and traitor.” Perhaps this behavior can be expected from a country whose majority remains drunk on the “American Dream”, who live with delusions of equality, and refuse to believe that it is necessary for some individuals to work twice as hard as others to get to the same place and earn the same respect; but this we will never know for sure.

What we do know, however, is that public’s reaction to Eileen Gu’s choice can be compared with the scrutiny (or lack thereof) from her male counterparts who have done the same, which only serves to emphasize the painfully obvious double standard in our world today. Even Despite Gu’s repeated assertions that she only wishes to use sport as a means of uniting countries and people, the media has still managed to villainize her. But to this Gu responds, “If people don’t believe me, if people don’t like me then that’s their loss, they’re never going to win the Olympics.” 

Works Referenced:

Ap, Tiffany. “How much money is Eileen Gu making from the Winter Olympics?” Quartz. Feb. 14, 2022, https://qz.com/2127630/how-eileen-gu-became-a-darling-of-global-and-chinese-brands/. Accessed Feb 18, 2022 

Cao, Steffi. “People Are So Mad About Chinese Americans Competing For China’s Olympic Team While There Are Entire White Men On The Team Too” Buzzfeed News. Feb. 11, 2022, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/stefficao/eileen-gu-zhu-yi-olympics-backlash-nationality. Accessed Feb. 15, 2022.

Mitchell, Lincoln. “Controversy over gold medalist Eileen Gu skiing for China misses the point” CNN. Feb. 10, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/08/opinions/eileen-gu-gold-medal-for-china-mitchell/index.html Accessed Feb. 15, 2022.

Swant, Marty. “How American Skier Eileen Gu Will Cash In On Competing For China” Forbes. Feb. 8, 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/martyswant/2022/02/08/american-skier-eileen-gu-who-won-gold-for-china-now-has-deal-prospects-on-both-sides-of-pacific/?sh=1b19f1ac6f87 Accessed Feb. 15, 2022.

Wharton, David. “‘Here to grow the game’: Why North American hockey players are competing for China” Los Angeles Times. Feb. 13, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/sports/olympics/story/2022-02-13/united-states-canada-hockey-players-china-olympic-roster Accessed Feb. 15, 2022.