Eileen Gu Has Already Won the Winter Olympics

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Eileen Gu is so good at so many things that it makes you (meaning me) reconsider how you think about yourself (meaning myself); besides maybe sports blogs, I’m not sure I do anything better than her. The 18-year-old Gu is a future Stanford student with a nearly perfect SAT score (1580 out of 1600) and a thriving modelling career that’s included campaigns for Fendi, Gucci, Tiffany and Louis Vuitton; last summer, she was the cover model and guest-editor for Vogue Hong Kong’s July issue. Oh, and she’s the best women’s freestyle skier in the world, favored to take home three gold medals in the Big Air, slopestyle and halfpipe events at this month’s Olympics. 

Gu’s impending star-turn is basically fait accompli at this point. Although she’s only been competing professionally for a few seasons, she’s already reimagining what’s possible in the sport, attempting—and landing!—tricks that no woman has ever successfully done. 

In an unmistakable declaration of her dominance, she posted a video to Instagram of her casually landing a double cork 1440 (four full spins with two off-axis rotations), which no woman has ever done before. Whereas most freestyle skiers are taut, coiled balls of muscle, Gu cuts a more elegant presence in the air—if not for the fact that all freestyle skiing seems impossible and terrifying, Gu makes it look fairly effortless. 

And then there’s the geopolitics of it all. Beyond being historically great and telegenic, Gu, a native San Franciscan who represents China in international competition, has unsurprisingly become a target for racists and jingos. Before Gu has even hit the slopes in Beijing, Tucker Carlson and his ilk have already busted out dated Yellow Peril rhetoric, wheezing that Gu is an “ungrateful” child who has made the “shameful” decision to “betray” America, which is definitely a totally normal sentiment to express on TV about a teenage girl you don’t know. Despite the fact that Gu handles questions of her citizenship with characteristic maturity and grace (Gu often says “in the U.S., I'm American and when I'm in China, I'm Chinese”), she’s become an involuntary combatant in a battle over national identity and race. 

In other words, Gu is about to be inescapable. The proliferation of social media algorithms and the sprawl of content has kind of undercut the idea of the monoculture, but Gu cuts through all of that. She’s a four-quadrant content generator—a world-class athlete, turned fashion icon, turned cable news lightning rod. A prismatic figure, she’s everything to everyone; she's the future, resented by the past. The only consensus is that she’s impossible to ignore.

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