Eileen Gu, THE star of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics

OLYMPIC GAMES – She is the snow queen in Beijing. If in France, the historic fortnight of Quentin Fillon Maillet logically made the headlines, in the world, it was another personality who imposed herself during these Winter Olympics 2022: the Chinese Eileen Gu, who became the first medalist in three freestyle skiing events in the same edition of the Games.

But to use the motto of basketball player LeBron James, she is “much more than an athlete”. Both by her choice to defend the colors of China rather than those of the United States where she was born, and for her personal journey and her breathtaking results, the young woman quickly became an essential face of the event. Until his popularity exploded, going from a few tens of thousands of followers on Instagram to 1.2 million in ten days or “breaking” Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, at the time of his first Olympic title.

A planetary consecration which ultimately looks like a completely logical step in this exceptional trajectory.

“I have like four lives at the same time. In combined, I am 60 years old in fact… Sixty years of experience in any case!” Here is the first sentence pronounced by Eileen Gu (or Gu Ailing, the version of her surname adapted to China) in Everyday Eileena documentary series that his partner Red Bull dedicated to him.

A strong link with China

Because if she does not want to “forget to be a teenager like the others”, the skier is nothing ordinary. In addition to her daily life, the one who is now a triple Olympic medalist, is also a brilliant student and a model in the process of making a name for herself with the greatest. The result of a permanent search for excellence and an atypical career.

If she was able to choose, in 2019, to represent China, it is because she was born to an American father and a Chinese mother. Of the first, we know practically nothing, but the second is much less secret. Arrived from China about thirty years ago, she finished her studies in the United States before making her fortune in investment banks and then through investment funds specializing in the Chinese market. She now manages her own image and especially her daughter’s career with extreme meticulousness, accompanying her as often as possible on competitions.

A mother-daughter pair who has always maintained a strong bond with her homeland, Eileen Gu spending her summer vacations since she was little in Beijing. And today, the maternal grandmother even shares the daily life of the two women in their home in San Francisco, California. This contributes to cultivating the perfect Mandarin of the skier. A protective family context in which the young woman was immediately encouraged to carry out her projects, whether in her piano practice or at school level.

This is how in June 2020, a year ahead of normal schooling, Eileen Gu received her high school diploma. And that she passed her SAT, the national university entrance exam in the United States. Again with a confusing success: in October 2022, after having taken the time to succeed in her Olympics at home, she will enter Stanford, one of the three best American universities and the most selective. To situate the performance, the year she took her national exams, less than 3,300 Americans out of 2 million candidates obtained a higher score than hers.

Model and ski prodigy

An additional string to the bow of the one who at the same time made a prolific breakthrough in the modeling world. Very followed by a young audience, Chinese as well as American, perfectly accustomed to responding to the media in both languages ​​and always smiling, the young woman of currently 18 years old was indeed very quickly spotted.

Until being represented by IMG Models, one of the most highly rated agencies on the planet. Today, she alternates between weeks of training in the mountains of Colorado and trips to New York, where she shoots for Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s and some of the biggest fashion magazines. Often intended for the Asian public elsewhere.

A life led at a mile an hour that does not prevent him from remaining focused on the essentials, namely his performance on skis. In 2021, Eileen Gu thus discovered both the X-Games, a great annual mass of extreme sports, and the Freestyle Skiing Worlds. The results: two gold medals in three events each time, and podiums in all the disciplines in which she was involved. With more records in spades, without any complex.

The flip side of fame

And it is with the same attitude, boosted by the adrenaline of her jumps, that she presented herself on the (artificial) snow of the Winter Olympics. To win her first medal, she allowed herself to replicate the jump of the Frenchwoman Tess Ledeux, which no one else had ever succeeded in competition, to blow the victory to the young tricolor. Then in slopestyle, after an anonymous start to the competition, she embarked on a last very high-flying attempt, falling just short of Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud. A tiny snag that she quickly erased this Friday, February 18, crushing the half-pipe competition to conquer a third charm and therefore a second Olympic title. Bluffing.

Except that with her astonishing performances, Eileen Gu is also discovering the other side of fame. If his perfect mastery of American social and media codes, like his choice to compete for China, made him a star in both countries, this dual culture is also in the process of earning him initial criticism.

Thus, several controversies are mounting about her, in the flood of congratulations and applause she receives. In the United States, one question keeps coming back: whether she has really renounced her American nationality. In Chinese rules, it is normally forbidden to have two passports. But while she refuses to say if she benefited from a privilege, in the United States, notably conservative personalities protest that she may have chosen a country which does not respect fundamental freedoms. . “She should have chosen freedom rather than human rights violations”, for example deplored Nikki Haley appointed American ambassador to the UN by Donald Trump and possible candidate for the Republican camp in the next presidential election.

In the same way, on the side of the Chinese power, voices are raised to call not to make the young woman a heroine of the Nation, but only of the Chinese Olympic team. A way of saying that a sporting allegiance should not take precedence over the “honor” of China and that we should never glorify an individual more than the country. At the opposite end of the political spectrum, still in China, opponents denounce the fact that a Chinese woman can benefit from free access to the Internet and total freedom of movement when her compatriots do not have the same rights.

Adventures that the young woman tries to dodge, brilliantly thanks to a certain rhetorical talent. She who had taken a stand against anti-Asian racism at the height of the Covid epidemic or in favor of the “Black Lives Matter” movement continues on this consensual and less politicized line. She thus assures that she chose to represent her mother’s country to “inspire” the Chinese, and in particular young girls, and to give them the desire to go skiing, a sport whose practice is not very popular. widespread in the country. Initially caught in a major war for the Communist Party and symbol of the “bright future” that awaits China, Eileen Gu is thus beginning to create some tension. But one thing is certain: for good or bad, she will have been talked about more than any other athlete during these Beijing Olympics.

And find in our slideshow below the most medal-winning athletes of the Olympic fortnight:

  • Johannes Bø (5 medals - 4 gold and 1 bronze)

    Kevin Voigt/DeFodi Images/Getty Images

    With 4 Olympic titles, the Norwegian biathlete Johannes Bø has equaled the old record of his elder Ole Einar Bjørndalen in the discipline, and even added a bronze medal to it.

  • Marte Olsbu Roiseland (5 medals - 3O, 2G)

    Maja Hitij/Getty Images

    Norwegian biathlete Marte Olsbu Roiseland won five medals in six races at the Beijing Olympics, including two individual titles.

  • Alexander Bolshunov (5 medals - 3O, 1A, 1B)

    Michel Cottin/Zoom Agency/Getty Images

    With five medals (3 gold, one silver and one bronze), Russian cross-country skiing specialist Alexander Bolshunov has achieved great Olympics.

  • Quentin Fillon Maillet (5 medals - 2O, 3A)

    Kevin Voigt/DeFodi Images/Getty Images

    With two gold medals and three silver, out of a total of six races contested, Quentin Fillon Maillet is THE French star of these Beijing Olympics. His five medals are a record for France, tied with an archer and a fencer in the 1920s.

  • Irene Schouten - (4 medals - 30, 1G)

    USA TODAY USPW via Reuters

    Speed ​​skating was dominated by the Netherlands and in particular by Irene Schouten, who won no less than three titles in the mass-start, 3000 and 5000 m. She won bronze in the team pursuit.

  • Suzanne Schulting (4 medals - 2O, 1A, 1B)

    Visual China Group/Getty Images

    As for short-track, speed skating on a race track, it was the Dutchwoman Suzanne Schulting who won the most medals: 2 titles, a silver medal and a bronze for the 24-year-old young woman.

  • Tarjei Bø (4 medals - 2O, 1A, 1B)

    Zhan Yan/Xinhua/Getty Images

    Johannes’ older brother, Tarjei B did nearly as well as his younger brother, bringing home four medals from Beijing. Two titles, a silver medal and a bronze for the winner of the big biathlon crystal globe in 2011.

  • Johannes Klaebo (4 medals - 2O, 1A, 1B)

    Lars Baron/Getty Images

    Still in cross-country skiing, it’s exactly the same record for the Norwegian Johannes Klaebo, who has crushed sprint races for years.

  • Miho Takagi (4 medals - 1O, 3A)

    USA TODAY USPW via Reuters

    In speed skating, the Japanese Miho Takagi has certainly won only one title, but she adds three silver charms.

  • Eileen Gu (3 medals - 2O, 1A)

    Fred Lee/Getty Images

    With two titles and a silver medal, the Chinese freestyle skier Eileen Gu was one of the queens of these Games played on home soil.
    The Norwegian Therese Johaug also marked these Games by winning three gold medals: in the inaugural skiathlon, in the 15km and finally 30km mass-start on the last day.
    Among the other athletes to have won three medals are the Norwegian Joergen Graabak for the Nordic combined (2O, 1A), the Austrian Johannes Strolz in alpine skiing (2O, 1A).

See also on the HuffPost: The family of snowboarder Chloé Trespeuch organizes their own Olympics to support her