Eileen Gu, American-Raised Athlete Competing for China, Wins Winter Olympic Gold in Nail-Biting Finish

The 18-year-old earned the top spot on the podium in a close finish in the women's freestyle skiing big air final

Ailing Eileen Gu
Photo: Liu Lu/VCG/Getty

Skier Eileen Gu edged out Tess Ledeux of France in a nail-bitingly close gold medal win in the women's freestyle skiing big air final event at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The 18-year-old freestyle skier earned a 94.50 in her final run on Monday night (Eastern) to move from third place to first with a 188.25 overall score.

Gu, an athlete and model, finished less than a point ahead of Ledeux, who had held the top spot after two runs. In her third and final attempt, Ledeux earned a 73.50 due to an imperfect landing. However, it was enough to earn her a silver medal with an overall score of 187.50.

The bronze medal was awarded to Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland, who only earned a 26.00 score after crashing in her third run to finish with a 182.50 total score.

This was the first time big air skiing appeared in the Winter Olympics, following the debut of big air snowboarding in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

Born in America but representing China in the Beijing Olympics, Gu earned loud applause from local fans after securing her come-from-behind victory.

Gu, whose mother is Chinese and whose father is American, was raised in the U.S. and first decided to compete for China ahead of the 2015 World Cup, according to CNN. Looking back in 2019, she called it an "incredibly tough decision."

"I am proud of my heritage, and equally proud of my American upbringings," Gu 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."

She ended her post with a three emojis — an American flag, a Chinese flag and a heart — after writing, "Through skiing, I hope to unite people, promote common understanding, create communication, and forge friendships between nations. If I can help to inspire one young girl to break a boundary, my wishes will have come true."

While she has avoided questions about her citizenship, Gu told the Olympic Channel of her dual-identity, "When I'm in China, I'm Chinese. When I'm in the US, I'm American," according to CNN.

Though Olympic rules allow athletes with dual citizenship to compete for a country in which they do not currently reside, the Chinese government does not recognize dual citizenship.

Gu shared more insight on her motivation to compete for China in an Instagram post on Thursday.

After learning to ski as a child in America, she "wanted to encourage Chinese skiers the same way my American role models inspired me," she wrote.

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"I've always said my goal is to globally spread the sport I love to kids, especially girls, and to shift sport culture toward one motivated by passion," Gu added.

She plans on attending Stanford University in California next fall.

To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Winter Olympics, beginning Feb 3, and the Paralympics, beginning March 4, on NBC.

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