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U.S.-born Chinese freeskier Eileen Gu, who's only 18 years old, has won her first personal Olympic Gold at the big air competition.
Executing a trick she has never pulled off in a competition, she managed a perfect landing as well in her third run, beating out French skiier Tess Ledeux. Swiss skiier Mathilde Gremaud took home the bronze.
Moments after her third run, Gu reportedly said, "Oh my god! I'm not crying. I'm definitely not crying" before falling to her knees when her score of 94.50 was announced, Time reported.
Subsequently, exuberant after her win, she told the event organiser that this was "the best moment of [her] life".
"Even if I didn't land it, I felt it would send a message out to the world and hopefully encourage more girls to break their own boundaries," she said.
Gu's victory has become arguably the biggest event in the Winter Olympics, which has so far been overshadowed by news regarding the country's strict Covid-19 measures and diplomatic boycott from the U.S. and its allies.
Victory crashes the Chinese internet
According to CNN, the hashtag "Gu Ailing won the Gold medal" received more than 300 million views within an hour on popular social media platform Weibo, which caused the site to crash momentarily.
Chinese online gushed over the teenage sensation's skiing prowess, and congratulated her -- in China, she's known as Gu Ailing.
Fans also affectionately call her the "frog princess" after a green frog helmet she once wore in a competition (her other nickname is "snow princess").
"[Not the main event but real talent that could still win Gold] My life's a joke, congratulations frog princess!!"
"The country will be strong if the youths are strong, (the ancient people) were not lying!!"
"[Her weak event but still world's number five]"
"Congrats Gu Ailing, the third run was just sick."
Chinese authorities have congratulated Gu as well, with the Beijing Municipal Government and Chinese Communist Party Beijing Committee referring to her win as "a precious gold medal for the country with her perfect performance".
Gu's popularity, which was already sky-high before the Games, soared even further with her victory. Among the top 10 trending hashtags on Weibo, issues revolving around her background and what she said took up four places.
For instance, the second top trending topic at the time of writing was "Gu Ailing makes retort to the American media".
Competing for China instead of the U.S.
Gu's mother was born in China and came to the U.S. in her twenties for university, while her father is from the U.S.
Gu spent several summers during her childhood in Beijing, and speaks Mandarin with a strong Beijing accent.
Back in 2018 when she was just 15, the San Francisco native had appeared in the Chinese team's colours and announced she would compete for China rather than the U.S.
Months later in February 2019, she was seen posing with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the front row along with other Chinese athletes.
In an Instagram post elaborating on her decision, she wrote that "this was an incredibly tough decision for [her] to make", and that she's proud of her "heritage" and equally proud of her "American upbringings".
Gu's decision to represent her mother's homeland has disappointed her American coaches, who saw her raw talent and helped groom her, according to the New York Times (NYT).
Nevertheless, the U.S. ski federation issued a statement that expressed support for her decision.
Still, Gu's identity remained in the spotlight during her post-victory interview -- China does not allow dual citizenship. According to NYT, she was asked at least six times whether she holds U.S. citizenship.
Gu had deftly handled the questions, and repeated her go-to line that she's American when in the U.S., and Chinese when in China.
Face of several luxury brands
In light of ongoing tensions between the two countries, her decision has sparked controversy, with some questioning her move to compete for China, a country whose human rights violations have been slammed by the U.S. government on several occasions.
The move turned out to be a lucrative one for Gu, with multiple sponsorship deals in China falling into her lap.
She has a myriad of deals with Chinese brands, including Mengniu Dairy, Bank of China, China Mobile and China Unicom, as well as collaborations with other high-end brands like Estée Lauder, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Company and Gucci.
With her face plastered everywhere from advertising campaigns to magazine covers in China, Gu has been dubbed the "face" of China's sporting ambitions by Western media outlets.
Hitting back at her critics, she also said in her post-victory interview, as reported by NYT, "No matter what I say, if people don’t have a good heart, they won’t believe me, because they can’t empathise with people who do have a good heart, 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."
Gu wasn't the only athlete to have switched allegiance to another country, and wouldn't be the last.
In 2008, American basketball player Becky Hammon came under fire when she represented Russia for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics after not getting a spot on the national team.
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