China’s freeski sensation Eileen Gu won her second gold of the Beijing Winter Olympics on Friday, becoming the first freestyle skier to bag three medals at a single Games.
The 18-year-old superstar topped the podium in the halfpipe final at Zhangjiakou’s Genting Snow Park, adding to her gold in the big air event last week and silver in slopestyle on Tuesday.
Gu, who says halfpipe is her strongest event, dominated from the start.
Again and again, she sped up the wall of the halfpipe and launched herself skyward, spinning and twisting gracefully to loud cheers from fans in the stands.
Already firmly in the lead, she outdid herself in the second run with an impressive score of 95.25. She was already assured of the gold by the time she set off on a third run victory lap.
Gu gave her coach a big hug at the top of the slope, came down the halfpipe once again and finished the ride with easy jumps, posing and celebrating her victory in midair.
“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’. I’m really happy,” Gu told reporters after her win, according to the Olympic site.
“It has been two straight weeks of the most intense highs and lows I’ve ever experienced in my life. It has changed my life forever,” she said.
Reflecting on her first and history-making Olympic Games, Gu said her overriding emotion was a “deep-seated sense of gratitude and resolution.”
“Just like this all coming together, years and years in the making and it’s like letting out a deep breath. I feel exhausted. I mean, God, from opening ceremony until now I’ve been skiing every single day so I’m really tired, but I feel at peace. I feel grateful. I feel passionate, and I feel proud,” she said.
Canada’s Cassie Sharpe claimed silver with a best score of 90.75, with her teammate Rachael Karker taking bronze. An emotional Gu embraced both of them as they posed for photos after event.
She also wore a panda hat as she received her Bing Dwen Dwen replica mascot on the podium, causing a stir among her fans on Chinese social media.
A breakout star
The Beijing 2022 Olympics have been a breakthrough moment for Gu as she became one of the biggest stars of the Games.
Born and raised in California, Gu chose in 2019 to compete for China, where she is known as Gu Ailing. In the lead-up to the Games, her popularity skyrocketed, with her face splashed across billboards, commercials, magazine covers and on state television.
And since the Games got underway, she has become a national sensation, earning more than 5 million fans on social media site Weibo.
She was hailed as the “pride of China” after winning her first gold, and has since won more medals than anyone else for Team China at these Games. Following her final victory in the halfpipe, China now boasts eight gold medals – the same as the United States (although China’s total medal count lags behind the US.)
But Gu has played down the national rivalry in the sport.
“One thing I love so much about freeskiing is this camaraderie and this spirit of support in which it’s not about what country you’re skiing for, it’s about our shared passion for the sport and this unique ability for this extreme sport to unite people because we’re not here to break limits for a country, we’re here to break the human limit,” she said.
“It’s not about nationality, it’s about bringing people together. It’s about sharing culture. It’s about learning from each other and forging friendships.”
Though Gu switched to compete for China, it’s unclear whether she renounced her American citizenship – usually a requirement for Chinese naturalization, since the country does not allow dual citizenship. She has repeatedly dodged questions about her citizenship while highlighting her dual identity, often saying: “When I’m in China, I’m Chinese. When I’m in the US, I’m American.”