Morning Chronicle - Gu makes Olympic debut carrying China's freestyle ski hopes

London -


Gu makes Olympic debut carrying China's freestyle ski hopes
Gu makes Olympic debut carrying China's freestyle ski hopes

Gu makes Olympic debut carrying China's freestyle ski hopes

Californian-born Eileen Gu, one of the faces of the Beijing Games, makes her Olympic debut Monday under the flag of host nation China.

Text size:

The 18-year-old has a Chinese mother and American father, but switched allegiance from the United States to China in 2019.

That move has earned her a huge following in China where expectations are high.

Heading into her first Olympics, Gu wrote on Instagram that her goals are to "simply do my best, enjoy the process, and continue to inspire others".

Yet she could walk away with three Olympic medals.

In Beijing, she is due to compete in the Big Air, making her Games debut in Monday's qualification round, the freestyle halfpipe and slopestyle.

The enormous cooling towers of Beijing's industrial district Shougang provides the stunning backdrop for the world's first permanent Big Air venue.

In the event, competitors launch themselves off a massive ramp and are awarded points for tricks while trying to stay airborne as long as possible before pulling off a controlled landing.

The competition format is three jumps in both qualifying and the final.

The event demands nerves of steel as the riders try to defy gravity.

"I admit it. I'm in love with fear," Gu recently told the New York Times.

She will have competition from France's Tess Ledeux, 20, who arrives in Beijing having won Big Air gold at last month's X Games in Aspen.

Kelly Sildaru, a 19-year-old Estonian, won the X Games superpipe title in Aspen and is set to challenge Gu for top spot in all of her three events.

Gu's popularity extends far beyond winter sports and she has endorsement deals with luxury brands including Victoria's Secret, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, fronting campaigns that appear on billboards throughout her adopted country.

Gu, whose Chinese name is Ailing, heralded her arrival on the freestyle ski scene with a stunning debut at the 2021 X Games in Colorado.

She won two golds and a bronze -- her adopted country's entire medal haul at the event.

If she repeats her X Games success, Gu can become the first freestyle skier to win Winter Games medals in three different disciplines.

Gu was taking part in a trampoline camp in Beijing when it was announced in 2015 that the Chinese capital will host these Winter Games.

"Even then, I was resolute to achieve the two equally ambitious goals of competing in Beijing and spreading the sport of freeskiing in China," she wrote on Instagram.

"Having been introduced to the sport growing up in the US, I wanted to encourage Chinese skiers the same way my American role models inspired me."