Eileen Gu, the American-born and trained skier who represented China at this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, is now pushing for the next Winter Olympics to be held in Salt Lake City, North America. ‘Utah.
At Tuesday’s TIME100 summit in New York, which Time magazine billed as a gathering to “shining light on solutions and encouraging action towards a better world”, Gu said his new role was a “beautiful example of globalism”.
In a media advisory provided by the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, Fraser Bullock, President and CEO, said Gu would be a global ambassador who would speak “on the vision of growing the sport in the world through the Olympics”.
“Our bid for 2030 or 2034 will focus on using our Games as a catalyst to energize winter sports around the world,” said Bullock. “Eileen has been effectively aligned and committed to that same vision. As a global ambassador, she can carry that message to millions around the world.”
The Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office told VOA Mandarin in a written statement, “A key vision for us as a Bid Group is to use the platform of our Games to help increase interest in winter sports in the world. Eileen is a[n] outstanding spokesperson for that.”
Both the Salt Lake City committee and the mayor’s office declined VOA’s interview requests for comment, as did Gu’s agent.
The Chinese state world times said in an op-ed that it was “not surprising” that Gu would represent Salt Lake City, and that it was not the first time athletes had endorsed hosting bids from countries other than their own. For example, Taiwanese American tennis player Michael Chang was an ambassador for China’s Olympic bid in 2008, while Chinese snooker sensation Ding Junhui supported London’s bid to host the Olympics in 2012. But none of the two has competed for countries other than his own.
Born in California, Gu decided to compete for China at the Beijing Olympics in 2022 when she was 15 years old. Even before winning two golds and a silver in February, she was one of the most marketable athletes in China – with lucrative sponsorship deals, vogue covers and a huge fan base – where she became the unofficial face of the Games.
Questions about her nationality, however, torment her. The freestyle skiing champion repeatedly dodged questions about whether she had renounced her US citizenship to ski for China or whether she held dual citizenship, which is not recognized in China.
When announcing her decision to join the Chinese team, Gu said only that “I am proud of my heritage and equally proud of my American upbringing.”
Gu’s latest change has quickly become a trending topic on Chinese social media. On Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, content related to Gu’s move received more than 430 million views in 48 hours.
At the TIME100 summit, Gu said she has no regrets about switching allegiance ahead of the Beijing Games. In February, she said she wanted to “inspire young people in China to get involved in winter sports”.
Although Gu’s online supporters in China praised his “international influence as a Chinese athlete”, his role in Salt Lake City did not sit well with some Chinese netizens, who called his citizenship “flexible”.
“Of course, she does not regret,” commented a Chinese user. “Billions of yuan in sponsorship fees. She wouldn’t have had so much to represent the United States”
another internet user poked fun at her as she rephrased Chinese poet Xu Zhimo’s famous poem “Goodbye Again, Cambridge”: “Very quietly I take my leave / As quietly as I came here; gently I stroke my skis / Billions of yuan in fees ‘approval shall I take away.’