Why American Eileen Gu Competes for China at Beijing 2022 Olympics
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By far one of the biggest headlines going into the Beijing Winter Olympics is the fascinating story of Eileen Gu, an 18-year girl born in San Francisco who 2.5 years ago made a surprising decision that she would represent China, not America at the 2022 Winter Olympics. In today’s article I’m going to break down why her story has caused an outrage amongst the US skiing community but most importantly I want to share with everyone the real reason Eileen Gu has chosen to represent China instead of America.
Let’s start from the beginning. Who is Eileen Gu? Eileen is the child of a Chinese mother and American father and grew up in California. She learned to ski in Lake Tahoe, and has received the bulk of her training in America. Much more than a skier, Eileen has an impressive list of accomplishments at only 18 years of age. She plays the piano, other sports like golf, nearly achieved a perfect score on her SATs, and will start her college career at the prestigious Stanford University this fall. Finally, Eileen is also an accomplished fashion model with companies like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co building entire marketing campaigns around her. It seems there is nothing this young woman can’t do!
But not everyone in America admires the path Eileen has chosen for her career. Jen Hudak, a former Winter X Games gold medalist for the USA women’s team recently shared her thoughts on Eileen.
“It is not my place to judge, but Eileen is from California, not from China, and her decision to ski for China seems opportunistic. She became the athlete she is because she grew up in the United States, where she had access to premier training grounds and coaching that, as a female, she might not have had in China. I think she would be a different skier if she grew up in China.”
Let’s break down these comments. First, I want to recognize the truth in Jen’ statements. There is no doubt about it, America invests a tremendous amount of money into its Olympic program and no doubt American coaching and training have benefited Eileen. She most definitely benefited from living in America, however coaching is only half of the equation. The other half is raw talent and this something that cannot be coached or developed. You are either born with it or you are not. Eileen’s talent in skiing is second to none. She is expected to sweep the 3 events she will compete in and realistically can walk away from the 2022 Winter Olympics with 3 Gold Medals. Jen Hudak doubled down on her comments, “This makes me sad. It would be nice to see the medals going to America.”
Sure, we can speculate that Eileen would have been a different skier if she grew up in China, but when you have the most talent in your sport it doesn’t matter where you grow up, you will rise to the top. A great example of this is the NBA superstar Giannis Aan Tuh Tuh Koom Pu. Son of Nigerian immigrants to Greece; Giannis was born in Athens and as a child worked selling sunglasses on the side of the street to help his family survive.
Giannis eventually started playing basketball and battled extreme racism growing up, but he was born with the talent of being the best basketball player on the planet. Eventually Giannis made it to the NBA and last year won his first NBA Championship with the Milwaukee Bucks. Greece has a decent basketball program, but it could never compete to the system of coaching and developing America has. Did Giannis childhood in Greece change the type of player Giannis grew up as? Of course it did, but his raw talent still brought Giannis to the top of the basketball world regardless of what country he born in.
I think Eileen fits in the category. Her training and lifestyle would have been different if she grew up in China, but her talent would have been the “X Factor” that brings her to the top of the skiing world no matter what country she grew up in.
But what is the real reason Eileen Gu decided to represent China? Well let’s go back to June 6, 2019, when she made the formal announcement on her Instagram account where she wrote:
I have decided to compete for China in the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics. This was an incredibly tough decision for me to make. I am extremely thankful for U.S. Ski & Snowboard and the Chinese Ski Association for having the vision and belief in me to make my dreams come true. 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. Through skiing, I hope to unite people, promote common understanding, create communication, and forge friendships between nations. If I can help to inspire one young girl to break a boundary, my wishes will have come true. 🇺🇸 🇨🇳 ❤️
Let’s break down Eileen’s comment further to better understand her decision. The first thing she mentioned was the difficultly in making this decision. There is no doubt that Eileen loves America, it is the country she knows best and like all Americans we absolutely love our homeland. However, notice the next thing she says, I’m extremely proud of my heritage. Eileen’s mother Yan is from Beijing. Growing up, she was a strong Tiger Mom first introducing her daughter to skiing and making sure her daughter never forgot her Chinese roots. One of the best examples of this is the flawless level of Mandarin that Eileen speaks. In America, it’s not always easy to raise children to speak both languages fluently. I can speak from personal experience. My wife is Chinese, speaks fluent Cantonese and Mandarin, and despite having a dad that also speaks Chinese we struggle to speak enough Chinese in the home. Our family communicates in English and our children are learning to speak Chinese but are not fluent. This is something my wife and I need to get better at and improve.
What I really love about Eileen’s decision comes out in the next sentence she said. The opportunity to help inspire millions of young people where my mom was born is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help to promote the sport I love. With Beijing hosting the Winter Olympics this was a major factor in Eileen’s decision to represent China. Winter sports is growing tremendously in China. Over the past 10 years, millions of Chinese have started to learn winter sports and even Xi Jinping has said he would like to see some 300 million Chinese people start to participate in winter sports. But the Chinese need a hero, they need someone they can look up to. Snowboarding is already extremely popular in China. In fact, earlier last month I had the chance to interview two of China’s top Olympic snowboarders, one of whom Liu Jiayu already claimed an Olympic Silver Medal in the 2018 Games. However, China doesn’t have enough talent in skiing and Eileen Gu could single handedly change this with her performance in Beijing.
Next let’s look at the last statement Eileen said in her decision: Through skiing, I hope to unite people, promote common understanding, create communication, and forge friendships between nations. The United States and China’s relationship is at an all-time low. Meanwhile Asian hate crime in America, most specifically towards our Chinese American community is at an all-time high. Instead of thinking Eileen is ditching America for China, I want to challenge everyone to think of this in a different context. Eileen represents the future of our world. In 2013, National Geographic published a special edition entitled “What Americans Will Look Like in 2050”. This was the girl that graced the cover of this issue. Look at her, she is absolutely stunning and represents the future of our world. A world that will see more mixed-race children and more cultures and nationalities blended together.
I’m a father of 3 mixed race children and I am raising my children to be world citizens. I want my children to be extremely proud of their Chinese heritage. I’m an American/German dual citizen, my wife is Chinese/Canadian, and our daughter was born in Hong Kong. She has passports from each respective place and in the future let’s imagine that my daughter became an Olympian, she could represent the United States, Canada, Germany, or China. Whatever country someone represents comes down to a personal decision not a geopolitical one. However not everyone agrees. Julian Ku, a constitutional law professor at Hofstra University and prominent voice on Chinese-American issues went on to say:
“She’s an athlete, but she made a political kind of decision to leave behind the U.S. and become Chinese. I don’t think she can dodge that anymore. Today, athletes in America talk about non-sports-related issues constantly, sometimes unsolicited. The politics of her decision are ugly.”
Julian is of course speaking to the United States decision to implement a “diplomatic boycott” of the Olympic Games as they accuse China of human right violations, but Professor Ku is placing athletes in a difficult position. At the end of day, athletes don’t want to be involved in a geopolitical conflict there are more important things in this world to focus on. When pressed for an answer on her decision, Eileen stated, “I’m an athlete, so I just do what I love and try to tell my own story. I love skiing, and I love fashion, and I love school, and I love my friends. I’m an 18-year-old girl growing up, and I just want to share my story, and so that’s the only thing I can do.”
As we conclude today’s article, I want everyone to hear the words of Jeff Ruffolo, a former Olympic volleyball broadcaster and publicist who has spent the past two decades working for China’s sports events.
“The Chinese are very emotional people. They don’t show it, but when the door closes, they become very emotional. And they know this woman, who is the best in the world, has come to them. They are saying, ‘She chose us! This matters to them. It means a lot to China that she chose them.”
Eileen Gu’s decision to represent China is a mature decision of a young girl that realizes a rare opportunity before her. If she represented America in the Olympics how many young girls would she inspire to take up skiing? The reality is very little. Skiing is already developed in America and even if she won 3 gold medals for Team USA it really wouldn’t move the needle for female sports in America. However by representing China Eileen has the chance to not only move the needle, she would become the needle in China. She singlehanded could inspire millions of young girls in China to take up a sport.
Imagine Eileen sweeps and wins 3 gold medals for China, this would inspire an entire new generation of female skiers. 20 years from now China could become one of the most dominant countries in the world for female skiing and the next generation of female skiers would all say the same thing….How did you get started in this sport? It all started when I was a young girl only 5 years old and watching Eileen Gu win gold during the Beijing 2022 Olympics. Because of Eileen I am here today. This is why EVERY sports league wants a presence in China. The NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB all want more exposure to China and dream of having an athlete from China. Look at the effect Yao Ming had on growing basketball and the NBA’s brand in China. One player can single handled change the entire game….this is the opportunity that is in front of Eileen Gu.
The Beijing Olympics have begun and I’ll be tuning in to support these games, these athletes, and the amazing stories they represent. Imagine if the world’s best skier wins gold at the Olympics and brings the both the United States and China closer together? Now that would be a gold medal for the future of our world!