Eileen Gu, the U.S.-born freeskier representing China in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, dodged questions about her citizenship on Tuesday after winning gold in the women’s freestyle skiing big air event.
The 18-year-old Olympian, born in San Francisco, was asked several times by reporters during a press conference if she had relinquished her U.S. citizenship to compete for China. Her response, each time, avoided a direct answer.
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“I’ve always been super outspoken about my gratitude to the U.S., especially the U.S. team,” she said, via Sports Illustrated. “I feel as though they’ve helped me out so much in my development, they continue to support me. And same with the Chinese team. They’ve always been super supportive and they’ve helped me so much. And so in that sense, I think that that speaks volumes to the ability of sport to bridge the gap and to be a force for unity.”
When pressed again, Gu gave another evasive answer.
“First of all, I’m an 18-year old girl. I’m a kid. I haven’t even gone to college yet. I’m a pretty normal person … If people don’t have a good heart, they won’t believe me, because they can’t empathize with people who do have a good heart. And so in that sense, I feel as though it’s a lot easier to block out the hate now. And also, they’re never going to know what it feels like to win an Olympic gold medal.”
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Chinese state media has claimed that Gu became a Chinese national at the age of 15, according to Reuters. The government does not allow dual citizenship meaning the California native would have had to give up her U.S. citizenship in order to do so.
“So coming here, I really feel there was a sense of coming home,” she said via Reuters. “I feel just as American as Chinese. I don’t feel I’m taking advantage of one or another. They understand that my mission is to foster a connection between countries and not a divisive force.”
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Gu, whose mother is Chinese, estimates she’s spent at least a quarter of her life in China. Her origin story, as she tells it, begins with the time she pitched the idea for China’s first slopestyle ski event at age 9 — and won.
Since choosing to side with China in 2019, she has said repeatedly that her goal is to encourage girls and women to take up winter sports — aligning with China’s pledge to inspire 300 million to hit the ice or snow.
The Associated Press contributed to this report