The 18-year-old freestyle skiing prodigy’s gold medal was the first for a Chinese woman in a snow event at the Winter Olympics. Gu is hoping it’ll be a moment for good for America, and the rest of the world too.

“My mission is to use sport as a force for unity.”

Ailing (Eileen) Gu is a force to be reckoned with. The 18-year-old freestyle skiing prodigy from the People’s Republic of China claimed the gold medal in the women’s freeski big air on Tuesday, but that’s just one part of her story at these Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

Gu stands for something far more significant than strictly sporting success. Her athleticism, skill, technique, and bravery to execute a 1620 on her final run to claim the win, should no doubt be praised, but the message she carries with her – and again, it cannot be stressed enough – as an 18-year-old, is remarkable and pertinent: sport can bring cultures together; not divide them.

Gu was born in San Francisco, USA, but elected to represent China, the place of her mother Yan Gu’s birth.

“I feel just as American as I am Chinese,” she told reporters after winning Olympic gold in her first Games event. “I grew up spending 25 to 30 per cent of every year in China. Actually, the tower here I can see from my house in Beijing.”

Gu announced her decision to represent the hosts back in 2019.

“The opportunity to 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. Through skiing, I hope to unite people, promote common understanding, create communication, and forge friendships between nations. If I can help inspire a young girl to break a boundary, my wishes will have come true.”

Speaking to The Guardian after her gold-medal win, she said: “I know I have a good heart. And I know my reasons for making the decisions I do. They are based on something I feel like is for the greater good.”

“I’m not going to waste my time trying to placate people who are uneducated, and don’t experience the gratitude and love I have on a daily basis.”

“If they don’t believe me, and if people don’t like me, that is their loss: they are never going to win the Olympics,” she added.

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