Gu Ailing, the United States-born Olympic skiing gold medalist, who is also known as Eileen Gu, said that she competed for China to inspire the nation’s young girls to get interested in the sport.
The freestyle skier won three medals at the Beijing 2022 Winter Games in February. She shared her thoughts on Tuesday at an event in New York, where she was among those honored as being among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2022, and she discussed her motivation and the possible roles she may play after the Olympics.
She said that she decided to compete for China in order “to inspire young girls”.
“It was to spread the sport among people who may have never heard of it before, especially those young girls who may not have that kind of representation.” She added that it was “really my sole reason”.
Asked whether she had second thoughts about her decision to represent China in the Olympics, considering the current tension between the US and China, Gu said not at all.
“No, I don’t have any regrets,” she said, because every day on her social media she receives messages from hundreds of young girls worldwide who call her their inspiration.
Gu has 1.6 million followers on Instagram, many of them young girls. They send her messages saying things such as “because of you, you inspired me to break my own boundaries and to try something that I never (knew) was possible before” and that she encouraged them “to be a better person”.
That “positive reinforcement cycle” motivated Gu.
“It’s not like an idol and fan, it’s friends moving together” to celebrate each other’s success, she said.
There are more than 300 million people participating in winter sports in China now, whereas skiing was a minority sport not many years ago.
“Sports are a shared experience transcending gender, age, race, background and culture,” Gu said, adding that they can bring about cultural exchanges, communication and uplift one another, generating a cycle of positivity.
“My biggest goal has always been to leave a positive legacy and to leave the world a little bit better than the way that I found it,” Gu said.
Gu also announced that she would be the ambassador for the US Winter Olympic Games bid in Salt Lake City in 2030. Gu said, “This is a beautiful example of globalism and the capacity that we can use skiing, we can use sports, we can use the winter sports to connect people.”
“Having somebody with Eileen’s fantastic profile worldwide, particularly with the youth, is just a dream come true for us,” Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, told Time.
Gu said she understands that with fame and success comes greater responsibility, and toward one group in particular: young victims of bullying worldwide.
Gu said their voices need to be heard. Otherwise, it is “incredibly detrimental during the formative years of their lives”, she said.
“The biggest form of self-care that I’ve had for myself is to find my voice and to use it for causes that matter to me and to encourage people… to make the world better in their own way,” said Gu.
Another area in which Gu is considering exerting her influence is in gender inequality in sports. Statistics indicate that girls under age 18 are six times more likely than their male counterparts to drop out of sports.
Gu, who was born in San Francisco and will attend Stanford University in the fall, has also had tremendous success in the business world.
She models for some of the world’s biggest fashion, jewelry and makeup brands and is the face of major Chinese businesses such as China Mobile, Anta, Bank of China and JD.