Freeskier Eileen Gu of China, one of the most prominent athletes of the Beijing Games, is now two-time Olympic champion Eileen Gu.
In the final women's freeski event of the Olympics, Gu, who is one of only two women who competed in all three freeski events in Beijing, took her third medal and second gold, this time in the halfpipe. She is the first freeski athlete to medal in three events in a single Games.
After the qualifier, Gu said she had more in store for the finals, and she didn't disappoint. She took the lead with her first-run score of 93.25. But in her second run, she went even higher on her opening-hit 900 and added more spins and technicality, including back-to-back alley-oop flat spin 540s in her final two hits. She was awarded a nearly untouchable 95.25, a score that held for the remainder of the contest.
When her win became official, Gu hugged her coaches at the top of the halfpipe, fell to her knees and cried. She then strapped into her skis, wiped her tears and dropped in for a victory lap.
"I've never taken a victory lap before in my entire life, so I felt like, 'You know what, last event at the Olympics, it feels like I finally deserve it,'" Gu said afterward.
Defending Olympic gold medalist Cassie Sharpe of Canada took silver and her teammate, Rachael Karker, finished with the bronze. Americans Hanna Faulhaber, Brita Sigourney and Carly Margulies finished sixth, ninth and 10th, respectively.
"It has been two straight weeks of the most intense highs and lows I've ever experienced in my life," Gu said of the Olympics. "It has changed my life forever. The second I landed the last 16 in big air, I knew my life was never going to be the same. Even then I would have never imagined that I'd walk away with another silver and another gold."
During her debut Olympics, Gu has juggled an exhausting schedule and faced enormous expectations while also attempting to straddle two cultures. Born in San Francisco to a Chinese mother and an American father and raised by her mother and grandmother, Gu made the decision in 2019 to leave the U.S. ski team and compete for China in the 2022 Games.
"This was an incredibly tough decision for me to make," she wrote on Instagram at the time. "The opportunity to help inspire millions of young people where my mom was born, during the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help to promote the sport I love."
Growing up, Gu spent summers in her mother's hometown of Beijing. She speaks fluent Mandarin and has said repeatedly, "When I'm in the U.S., I'm American and when I'm in China, I'm Chinese." But for the past two weeks in China, Gu has been asked to be many things to many people.
In local news stories about her Olympic success, she's "San Francisco's Eileen Gu," a young woman shaped by the city in which she was born. In the Stanford Daily, she's "Stanford's Eileen Gu," an incoming freshman who might major in molecular biology or journalism. In some U.S. news coverage, she's "American-born Eileen Gu," with the emphasis placed on the American half of her identity, while in others, she's "China's Gu Ailing."
No matter who is telling the story, Gu has been a marquee name of the Beijing Olympics. She is interviewed in English on NBC broadcasts and in Mandarin on Chinese telecasts. Between events, Gu posts to Instagram -- something other Chinese citizens cannot access -- as well as to her Weibo account, China's equivalent of Twitter. Her image is ubiquitous around Beijing, on billboards and bus stop advertisements, where she is the most popular athlete at these Games. Her Weibo account has grown to 5 million followers, while her following on Instagram has increased sevenfold to more than 1.2 million.
But what is perhaps most remarkable about all the attention Gu has received during these Games is that she did not buckle beneath it. Instead, she landed almost every run throughout qualifying and the finals of three events, the most consistent woman freeskier of the Olympics. In her two gold-medal events, even when she led the competition, she was never complacent. She pushed herself to land better runs and improved upon her scores.
Beneath the scorching heat of the Olympic spotlight, Gu did precisely as she was predicted to do: leave Beijing as a multiple gold medalist.