China’s Eileen Gu enrages nationalists as she takes on the role of the US Olympics

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Two competing hashtags about Eileen Gu are trending on Weibo, China’s main social media website, after the skiing star said she has no regrets representing her mother’s homeland at the recent Olympics in Beijing. winter, then announced an ambassadorial role with a United States team. Olympic bid.

The California-born athlete, also known in China as Gu sick, became China’s headliner when it won two gold medals and a silver in freestyle skiing at the Beijing Games in February. His sporting success was widely celebrated by the Chinese public and was also significant for the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the country.

speaking to the Time At the 100 gala on Tuesday, Gu said she chose to represent China “to inspire young girls” in a country where winter sports are just taking off. “No, I have no regrets,” she told the magazine’s Sean Gregory in New York.

“I’m actually an ambassador for the Salt Lake City 2030 Olympic bid,” Gu said when asked about the prospect of competing for Team USA in the future. “I think it’s this great example of globalism and the ability that we can use skiing, we can use sport and we can use winter sports to connect people.”

Olympic gold medalist Eileen Gu attends the 2022 TIME100 Summit in New York on June 7, 2022. At the event, Gu, who represented the Chinese team at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, said that she would be an ambassador for the Salt Lake City Olympics. offer.
Countess Jemal/Getty Images for TIME

On Weibo, a site that had more than 570 million monthly active users in 2021, Gu’s comments went viral. A hashtag – “Gu Ailing has never regretted representing China” – has been read 120 million times in six hours since Wednesday morning local time, according to statistics from the site.

Another – “Gu Ailing will serve as an ambassador for the US Olympic bid” – was read 300 million times during the same period, according to the data.

The online engagement showed that, at the very least, Gu’s decision to become Salt Lake City’s envoy has divided opinion, with his every move already being scrutinized through the lens of broader geopolitical friction between Washington and Beijing. .

Tom Kelly, spokesman for the Salt Lake City bid committee, said Gu would act as “the athlete’s representative,” but the “exact title” of her role had yet to be decided.

For nationalists in both countries, the controversy surrounding Gu goes beyond her 2019 decision to ski for the Chinese team at the Winter Olympics earlier this year, a decision she says was backed by her peers in the United States.

Gu says she’s American when in the US and Chinese when in China, but some don’t find this idyllic coexistence easy to accept. The teenager is caught between two rival politicians, both of whom readily seize opportunities to question her loyalties.

At the games in Beijing, Gu told reporters she was not going to waste her time “trying to appease uneducated people.” She has remained largely out of politics.

Emblematic of the controversy is Gu’s legal status. It is believed that she acquired Chinese citizenship sometime after 2019 to enable her to compete for China. However, the country does not recognize dual citizenship, meaning she would have had to give up her US citizenship to become legally Chinese.

The Federal Register publishes a quarterly list of people who have “chosen to emigrate”. Gu’s name does not appear on any of the lists so far, including the latest one dated April 20.

Many in China are happy with the idea that Beijing would not create a legal exemption just for Gu. But for Chinese nationalists, dual citizenship, even if allowed, would not be satisfactory.

Eileen Gu divides opinion as Olympic envoy
Eileen Gu of the Chinese team competes during the Women’s Freeski Halfpipe event in Zhangjiakou, China, 18 February 2022.
Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

During the recent Winter Games, prominent commentators warned their fellow citizens not to get too attached to Gu; where her allegiances really stand would be clear after the competition, depending on where she chose to live, they said. Gu is expected to begin studying at Stanford this fall.

In early April, at a gathering of CCP athletes and officials to celebrate China’s achievements at the Olympics, President Xi Jinping mentioned Gu by name and referred to his love of Chinese pies – another moment that went viral online.

Two weeks later, as Shanghai entered a COVID lockdown and infections in Beijing began to mount, Gu shared Instagram stories showing her and her family on a private jet out of the capital.

“I would only recognize his Chinese lineage if his father was Chinese. To be legally Chinese is something else; Passing her off as Chinese makes no sense. China has so many excellent local athletes. Why she ? wrote a Weibo commenter, in an apparent reference to Gu’s American father.

“For two golds and one silver, we let her raise 200 million [Chinese yuan ($30 million)] and quietly allowed dual nationality. Now she takes her cake and eats it from both ends,” said another.

In a Twitter thread reacting to Gu’s announcement, Chinese sports analyst Mark Dreyer said he believed she was “overcompensating for her decision to represent China in 2022”.

“I totally agree with people trying to build bridges, especially when it comes to the difficult relationship between the United States and China, but you can’t be ‘all-in’ on both. sides. It doesn’t go with either side,” Dreyer says.

The International Olympic Committee is expected to announce the host of the 2030 Winter Games in May 2023. Sapporo in Japan and Vancouver in Canada, as well as Salt Lake, are candidates to host the event. Salt Lake also has a chance to host the Games in 2034 if the city’s first bid fails.


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