BEIJING — The legend of Eileen Gu continues to grow in China.
Gu, the American-born freestyle skier now competing for China, had already won a gold and a silver medal at these Olympics. Friday morning, under an ice-blue sky and in surprisingly warm — for the mountain venue — temperatures of 12 degrees Fahrenheit, Gu dropped into the halfpipe for her third and final event of the Games.
Two stellar runs later, she’d captured her second gold of the Olympics, and her stature in China had grown immeasurably.
In China, Gu is the face of these Games, her image and likeness appearing on billboards, in commercials, and on the omnipresent official Beijing Olympic shopping bags. She’s a hero to millions of girls in China, and she’s said her mission is to inspire them and to bring winter sports to a nation not normally known for its love of snow.
"Eileen Gu, three-time Olympic medalist, like that just is insane for me to think about."
The 18-year-old reacts to leaving the 2022 #WinterOlympics with three medals. @OnHerTurf pic.twitter.com/1IH53f6GJx
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 18, 2022
But with her growing image has come controversy, with many American critics questioning her decision to ski for the country of her mother’s birth, along with unanswered questions about the truth of her citizenship status. Gu has resolutely declined to answer all questions about her citizenship or other geopolitical issues at these Games.
Instead, Gu has done her talking on skis. She handily won gold in Big Air earlier in the Games, then narrowly missed out on a second at slopestyle.
Gu considers halfpipe her best event, and in qualifying, she proved it, recording the best score of all competitors and earning the right to ski last in the three-run finals. She seemed to lose a bit of momentum on her first run, not quite carving up the sky the way she has in previous events. But even that was enough to earn her first place after the initial round; her score of 93.25 drew raucous cheers from the heavily Chinese fans gathered at the base of the halfpipe.
Her second run was even better, earning a 95.25 and putting her more than five points clear of her closest challengers. That held up for the rest of the event, and Gu won her second gold of the Games.
— On Her Turf (@OnHerTurf) February 18, 2022
Gu is now the first freestyle skier to win three medals at a single Olympics. Cassie Sharpe and Rachel Karker, both of Canada, won silver and bronze, respectively. Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru, who along with Gu are the only women to compete in all three freeski disciplines, finished just off the podium in fourth.
Among Americans, Hannah Faulhaber finished sixth, Brita Sigourney finished 10th, and Carly Margulies finished 11th.