Is Eileen Gu a Traitor to America? My Thoughts as an American Citizen
Today’s newsletter is sponsored by Skillshare! The first 1,000 people to use this link will get a 1 month free trial of Skillshare: https://skl.sh/cyrusjanssen02221
For a video presentation of this article please click the link below:
Well Eileen Gu did it! She has become an Olympic champion and brought a prestigious gold medal to the People’s Republic of China. However, this is where things start to get interesting, as inevitably there was going to be some major criticism.
Even before Eileen won the gold medal Fox News reporters Tucker Carlson and Will Cain described Eileen as “ungrateful for betraying and turn her back to the country that raised her and calling her decision to represent China “shameful.”
In my last article I detailed the real reason Eileen Gu is representing China at the Winter Olympics, but in today’s article I would to elaborate further and talk about what it truly means to be an Olympian and why Eileen’s decision to represent China was actually more difficult, more risky, and a lot more pressure than if she had stayed with Team USA.
The story of Eileen is fascinating. She started skiing at 3 years old and joined a ski team at age 8. Even as a young American girl learning skiing in California, Eileen noticed most girls were encouraged to participate in downhill racing, while the boys were recruited for freestyle skiing. At this moment, Eileen knew she wanted to compete against the boys and in the future inspire a new generation of female athletes. Last year while preparing for these Olympic Games Eileen stated:
“The most important thing in life for me is to find something you like to do and enjoy it. The second most important thing is to change the world.”
As most of us know by now. Eileen is mixed race. Her father Caucasian and her mother a Chinese native originally from Beijing. What’s important to note is that we know very little about Eileen’s father. The NY Times stated that he graduated from Harvard University, but he is completely out of the public eye and Eileen has never publicly spoken about him.
Eileen was raised by her mother and maternal grandmother and even Eileen’s last name, Gu represents her mother’s Chinese heritage. Once you start to understand a little bit more about this family dynamic you can begin to understand her deep connection to China.
Now many people have speculated that Eileen’s choice to represent China was financially motivated. Eileen is an accomplished fashion model and already has lucrative contracts with Louis Vuitton and Tiffany. Now that she won gold will this lead to more endorsement contracts for Eileen in China? Absolutely it will, but athletes seeking sponsorship deals is an important part of the sport. To better understand this dynamic, listen to this quote from four time Olympian Elana Meyers Taylor:
My husband and I and hundreds of others wear “Team USA” uniforms, so people assume that the US government funds us. Not so. Most American Olympians work full time or part time in addition to their Olympic training. And we all depend on companies to pay for training, equipment and competition fees.
Here is an interesting fact that most people don’t know. Unlike most other nations, the United States government does not have a Ministry of Sports and does not fund its Olympic Committee. As a result, American athletes DEPEND on sponsorship deals to fund their careers. Elana goes on to share:
For my family and many others, sponsor support isn’t a bonus or a nice-to-have – it’s a need-to-have. One example: In 2020, sponsor support enabled me to take time to have a child. If you’re a competitive athlete, not competing means not earning prize money – there’s no “paid parental leave” on the bobsled circuit. Because we saved some of our sponsor funds from the last Olympics, I was able to give birth to my son and take time to recover.
Let’s be honest here, Eileen had an amazing opportunity to cash in on several lucrative sponsorship opportunities. As someone who has worked in the sports marketing industry for 15+ years I know this first hand, it comes down to leverage. Eileen can leverage her name and brand much bigger in China than she can in America.
But it’s not all about the cash for Eileen, remember her quote from earlier. Her goal is to change to the world! Eileen represents both the US and China and often highlights one of her main sporting motivations is to bring her two cultures closer together and inspire young women in China to try extreme sports.
But what about the US? Didn’t Eileen become the world class skier she is today because of the facilities and coaching she received in America? Not necessarily. Being an American Olympian doesn’t guarantee you the best access to training or coaches. Let’s take the example of American snowboarder Victor Ivan Wild.
Victor originally competed for the United States, but after the 2010 Winter Olympics, the US Ski & Snowboard Federation shut down its alpine snowboarding program. At the time, the program had an annual budget of only $135,000 a fraction of the funding needed for an internationally competitive team.
Instead of ending his career, Victor left the country and married a Russian snowboarder in 2011. Three years later he went on to win two gold medals for Russia and this was his comments after his win:
"Russia is a country that made it possible for me to win. Had I stayed in the US, I'd probably be still sitting at home, doing some ordinary job … It is just amazing that I won this gold for Russia. Some may think, 'This guy still stays American.' … And that is not true! I am not some American guy who decided it would be easier to get to Olympics in a country where snowboarding is undeveloped. I have chosen the harder path to success, and I have walked it all the way."
In my opinion, Eileen’s choice to represent China was not the easier path, in fact it was a much more difficult path to choose. By switching to China, Eileen placed a huge weight on her very own shoulders. She was the number one story heading into the 2022 Winter Olympics and had the hopes and dreams of 1.4 billion people riding on her performance. For those of you who watched the event life, did you catch how the announcer introduced Eileen at the top of the slope?
Eileen Gu, the People’s Champion! Here is Eileen standing at the top of slope, realizing it was the biggest moment in her entire life. She rose to the occasion and landed the most difficult trick performed by any woman that day. The pure raw emotion that poured out of Eileen that sunny afternoon in Beijing was unreal. It’s what all of us who enjoy sports want to see. The world’s best athletes performing through the pressure and delivering a world class result.
Evidence that representing China is not an easy task can easily be seen from what happen to Chinese figure skater Beverly Zhu. Born in California, Beverly also made the decision to represent China instead of her birth country during these games even changing her name to Zhu Yi. Unfortunately, Zhu Yi crashed in her debut in women’s short program team event finishing dead last in the event. The hashtag “Zhu Yi has fallen” received over 200 million views in just a few short hours with many Chinese fans questioning her qualification and capability. But targeting young individual athletes and attacking them on social media is going too far. Instead, fans need to be more empathetic and supportive. We should all be proud of our athletes whether they finish first or last in the competition.
This however does raise an interesting point as many Americans are feeling compassion for the figure skater Zhu Yi, but at the same time calling Eileen Gu a traitor. Is there a double standard that exists here? To be honest I think I don’t think Eileen’s decision to represent China is about her as person as much as it’s an opportunity for people to further criticize China.
Mark Dreyer, a Beijing-based analyst and author of Sporting Superpower: An Insider’s View on China’s Quest to Be the Best, went on to state:
“The narrative in the U.S. on both sides of the political aisle is that China is bad. And so, the fact that someone is specifically willing to leave the U.S. to go to China pushes a lot of buttons. I think if it was the U.S. and almost any other country, possibly with the exception of Russia, it would be a very different reaction.”
A great example of this American born Sarah Schleper who represented Team USA four times in the Olympic Alpine skiing. In 2014 Sarah acquired Mexican citizenship and is now competing again in Beijing, however this time she is representing Mexico. But let’s not also forget the Chinese men’s hockey team whose 25-man roster is comprised of 11 Canadians, seven Americans, one Russian and six homegrown Chinese players.
One of the stars of the Chinese Hockey team is American Jake Chelios, son of NHL hall of famer Chris Chelios. When asked about being an American citizen and playing for China Jake responded:
“Obviously I’m not Chinese but for the last three years I’ve been playing for the Chinese team, I’ve got the chance to live here and I love it. “In three years, you start to feel a certain closeness to the country and the fact that they’re letting me represent their country is a huge honour. Honestly, I couldn’t be more excited to represent China.”
As we come to the conclusion of today’s article I want to end by sharing a fascinating article from Cosmopolitan magazine entitled “I Used to Feel Guilty Rooting for China. Olympian Eileen Gu Vindicated Me.”
The author goes on to share her personal story of being born in China and later immigrating to America where she became a naturalized American citizen. Many people relocate and acquire new citizenships as part of their journey in life, but the connection to the homeland always remains. The author admitted that deep down in her heart she still loved China and cheered for China at the Olympics, something that other Americans have judged her on. There is one important quote I want you to take away from this article:
The author goes on to share this incredible message:
For immigrants like me and first-generation Americans like Gu, the “China or America?” ultimatum poses a false dichotomy. This reaffirms the notion that expressing love for one’s Chinese culture is akin to signing a blood oath to the CCP, a logical fallacy perpetuated by mainstream media that stokes a vicious cycle of anti-Asian bias and racism, however inadvertent. Gu is not a pawn in some grand geopolitical strife. She’s a young woman who grew up straddling two worlds, a feat that I’ll bet is even more complicated than the gravity-defying flips she’ll be performing this week.
At the end of the day take the politics out of this decision. Eileen is an 18-year-old woman that gave the Olympics her everything and became a world champion. As an American citizen I don’t look at Eileen as a traitor but instead a trailblazer. A young woman who forever changed the sport of freestyle skiing with her performance in Beijing.
But I know what some of you are thinking. Eileen could have inspired millions of young girls in China as an American skier, she didn’t have to switch to Team China to do so. But is that really true? Let me give you a great example, last night American Nathan Chen won the Gold Medal for singles figure skating becoming the 7th American man to accomplish the feat. Nathan was born in Utah to Chinese immigrants.
Nathan of course is ethnically Chinese, but will this gold medal mean anything to Chinese people? Do you think Nathan’s win will inspire millions of young boys in China? Let’s be honest most likely it won’t and this demonstrates exactly why Eileen choose to represent China. Sure haters will speculate the only reason she choose China was for endorsement contracts, but you have to zoom out and see Eileen’s bigger goal. Change the world and represent the two countries who have made her into the success young woman that she is today.
Everyone I’ve decided to make 2022 a year of new learning and growth, and I want to thank Skillshare for sponsoring today’s video. Skillshare is an online learning community with thousands of inspiring classes for anyone who wants to develop new skills. What’s your passion in life? Is it Baking? Music? Photography? maybe you want to improve your business leadership, marketing skills, or even learn a new language? There are thousands of courses to discover on Skillshare!
The first 1,000 people to use this link will get a 1 month free trial of Skillshare: https://skl.sh/cyrusjanssen02221