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'Frog princess' spawns new era

China Daily | Updated: 2021-02-18 09:54
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Gu shows off her medals from the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado, on Jan 30. AP

Born in California and representing the United States before switching to China, teenager Gu Ailing looks destined to be one of the faces of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

The 17-year-old, who also goes by the name Eileen Gu, is a freeskier, model and grade-A student with an American father and Chinese mother. She grew up and still lives in the United States, but in June 2019 she made the "incredibly tough" decision to compete for China, a minnow in ski sports but with grand ambitions.

Gu, who was 15 when she pledged her allegiance to China, wrote on Instagram that she was "proud of my heritage and equally proud of my American upbringings".

"The opportunity to help inspire millions of young people where my mom was born a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help to promote the sport I love," Gu added of her decision to represent China.

Team China won just one gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games in South Korea, but the Chinese-speaking Gu has been enthusiastically embraced by the country's media, who affectionately dubbed her "Frog Princess" after a green helmet she wore.

"I was raised bilingual and spent every summer in Beijing so I know Chinese culture and American culture as well," she told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"So I have that dual identity, where together, two halves make a whole for me."

Gu graduated from a San Francisco high school last year, 12 months early, so she could forget her studies for a bit and focus on her Beijing 2022 training.

She reportedly scored 1,580 points out of a maximum 1,600 in the SAT, the test used for college admissions in the United States, and has been offered a place at Stanford.

A fashion lover, Gu has featured in glossy magazines such as the Chinese editions of Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Harper's Bazaar, and already has a raft of commercial deals, including with energy-drink giant Red Bull.

Great expectations

But for all the modeling shoots and visits to Milan and Paris fashion weeks, it is her performances in freestyle skiing that have earmarked her as a potential star at Beijing 2022 and beyond.

Gu started on the snow at the age of 3, was competing in national competitions at 9 and won her first World Cup event at 15.

She claimed two gold medals and a silver for China at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Underlining her medal credentials for 2022, Gu made her debut at the X Games in Aspen, Colorado last month and promptly won two golds-first in the superpipe (aka halfpipe), and just a day later in slopestyle. She also bagged a bronze, in the Big Air competition.

No female debutant had ever stood on the top podium in the 25-year history of the X Games, and Gu was also the first Chinese winner. It prompted Xinhua to run a 1,000-word feature with the headline:"17-year-old Eileen Gu, next Chinese sports icon?"

The breakthrough X Games performances have heaped pressure on her for Beijing 2022, and Gu, who is also an accomplished cross-country runner, is doing little to play down expectations.

"My goal is to win Olympic gold," she told the official Olympic website. "That to me is just representative of excellence in sport, it's the top achievement, undisputedly.

"That would be so rewarding for all the work that I've done to achieve greatness in the sport."





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