5 Facts About Olympian Eileen Gu

Chinese-American Olympic skier Eileen Gu first made headlines when the San Francisco native chose to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games for China, rather than the United States, where she was born, as The Washington Post reports. Scrutiny of the teenage Olympics sensation — both positive and negative — intensified when Eileen Gu, who also goes by Gu Ailing, took home gold in the first-ever women's big air freestyle event, according to CNN. In China, she is heralded as a national hero, while her stateside reception is decidedly mixed (per Slate).

Regardless of the Eileen Gu debate, the young star athlete clearly earned her spot in Olympics history with her win in women's big air, as well as her place among the world's best freestyle skiers. And at the time of this writing, her final 2022 medal count was far from complete (via Olympics). From amazing academic accomplishments to her interesting side gig, and her true motivations for switching Olympics allegiance from the U.S. to China, here are five facts to know about this young skiing phenom. At only 18 years old, Eileen Gu seems likely to be a skiing ambassador for many more years to come.

She graduated early

Per The Washington Post, Eileen Gu is a phenom both on the slopes and in school. Notably, she's the first student to ever graduate early from San Francisco University High with an SAT score of 1580, only 20 points from perfect, via The Princeton Review. What's more, she's already enrolled in the prestigious Stanford University, the school she plans to attend following the 2022 Games in Beijing (per CNN.)

The star of both the X Games and the Olympics is also fluent in both the English and Mandarin languages, the latter she predominantly speaks while in China. When asked what her plans are in life after skiing and Stanford (where her mom, who was born in China, also attended), Eileen told Forbes in 2021, "It's funny, I'm almost embarrassed to say it because people are like you're going to Stanford, they're expecting I'm gonna work on Wall Street like my mom, and I don't want to say, 'Hey, I want to be a food connoisseur.'"

She's also a model

If a career in pro sports or in the food industry fails to work out, Eileen Gu has one more thing to fall back on: Her work as a fashion model, via her Instagram page, where she has more than 200,000 followers. At the time of this writing, she is represented by IMG Models Worldwide, and her cover credits include both Elle and Vogue China, among others, as LifeStyle Asia reports. She has also received invitations to both Paris Fashion Week and the Met Gala.

She is so well known in China, she gets recognized on the street. Of her modeling career, she told Forbes that it's not that different from skiing. "It's creative and expressive and unique, and being different is a good thing," she said. "I absolutely love it. My whole life is a bunch of things you wouldn't expect to go together. That enriches my life all the more, and the contrast is what makes it fun," she continued.

She's an all-around athlete

Skiing is not the only athletic pursuit in which Eileen Gu excels. Per the official Olympics website, she also competes in cross-country running, and has a passion for both horseback riding and rock climbing. Her other notable wins beyond the Olympics include World Cup wins and success at the X Games, according to Forbes. At the 2020 World Cup in Calgary she won both slopestyle and halfpipe, and that same year she won gold at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne.

As far as the X Games, her accomplishments continue, being the first female participant to win gold in three separate events, as Lifestyle Asia reports. What's also not to be missed about her first big air appearance in Beijing: She landed a double cork 1620 on her very first try, as Click2Houston reports. Rounding out her athletic resume, she's also the first woman to accomplish a freeski double cork 1440 while training, as the Olympics website reports. When not in competition, she also plays the piano, according to The Washington Post.

She advocates for social justice

Per The Economist, Eileen Gu is an outspoken supporter of several social justice causes, particularly addressing anti-Asian sentiment surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, which she herself experienced, via The Economist's report. Furthermore, she supports gender equality and female representation in athletic competition, via Lifestyle Asia, and the Black Lives Matter movement, per The South China Morning Post (SCMP). On the topic of anti-Asian discrimination during the pandemic, she told the SCMP, "It breaks my heart to see something like this hit so close to home."

Controversially, the skier has so far taken no stand on China's long list of human rights violations, such as the mass persecution of the ​​Uyghur ethnic minority, as the BBC explains. On the topic of China and human rights, her agent, Tom Yaps, told The Economist she has her own personal safety to consider. "If [Eileen] participates in an article that has two paragraphs critical of China and human rights, that would put her in jeopardy over there. One thing and a career is ruined," he said.

Her current nationality is uncertain

No question, Eileen Gu's decision to compete for China rather than the U.S. in the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing made her an instant celebrity in China, but raised eyebrows in the States, with much speculation as to what her true motivation might be. At the time of this writing, the status of her nationality remains unclear, but the Chinese government does not allow dual citizenship, as CBS News reports. What's also notable is that one of her corporate sponsors, Red Bull, said she gave up her American passport to compete, a claim which has since been retracted (via BBC).

According to the skier, she hopes her profile in China, where she's a celebrity, will inspire other young women to engage in the sport of freestyle skiing, as the Olympics website explains. In addition to that, she goes on to say, "This was an incredibly tough decision for me to make. I am 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, during the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help to promote the sport I love," per her own Instagram page.