Eileen Gu, the 18-year-old Californian who is participating for China at the Beijing Games, has previously won two medals in freestyle skiing events. She earned gold in big air last week and nearly missed another in slopestyle on Tuesday, ending with silver.
On Friday, she tackled the halfpipe — which she says is the finest of her three events — attempting a trifecta.
With a big audience of Chinese supporters applauding her every trick, she comfortably scored a 95.25 on her second performance, placing her much above the rest of the competition. By the time she went up for her third run, she had already won gold.
Her halfpipe success fulfilled the aim she had set for the Winter Olympics: to earn three medals for China.
Gu was about to do a last run with a tough cork 10, to show off a little, but her partner Kexin Zhang slipped and hurt her head, then struggled to get up before skiing down the halfpipe. That made Gu contemplate a hazardous run.
“It sort of woke me up, and I’ve never done a victory lap before in my whole life, so I felt like, ‘You know what, last event at the Olympics, it seems like I finally deserve it,’” she added. “I’m incredibly happy.”
Canadians followed in strong following Gu, with Cassie Sharpe capturing silver and Rachael Karker bronze. Sharpe, who won the halfpipe gold at the 2018 Olympics, came back after knee surgery last year.
Gu’s competition also featured her biggest adversary, Kelly Sildaru of Estonia, the only female woman who participated in all three of Gu’s events. Sildaru, who placed fourth, said the halfpipe was a touch sluggish on Friday when it was windy, particularly the right wall. But she was satisfied with her performance.
The United States had a strong contingent, highlighted by the 17-year-old Hanna Faulhaber, who finished fourth at the world championships last year, and Brita Sigourney, 32, who won Olympic bronze four years ago. Faulhaber placed sixth, Sigourney 10th and Carly Margulies 11th in the 12-woman final.
Gu has gained worldwide notice — and some discussion — for her choice in 2019 to represent her mother’s country.
The choice was scarcely acknowledged when she was 15 and the Beijing Olympics were over three years away. Now Gu dominates her sport and finds herself straddling a widening geopolitical breach between her two nations.
Yan Gu, Eileen’s mother, was born in Shanghai and reared in Beijing, the daughter of a government engineer. She went to the United States roughly 30 years ago for postgraduate study and resided in San Francisco.
Eileen Gu, reared in San Francisco, has become a model, representing premium labels like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany. She has so many sponsorships in China that she is a ubiquitous presence in ads and gets great publicity from the official news media.
Gu has claimed that she wants to be a bridge between the United States and China while motivating young women and assisting China’s budding winter-sports sector to thrive. She and her mother have refused to tackle any of the delicate geopolitical concerns that affect the competing nations.
Gu knows the previous two weeks will impact her life forever.
“It has been two straight weeks of the most intense highs and lows I’ve ever encountered in my life,” she added.