Chinese freestyle skier Eileen Gu was already a winner on the FIS World Cup circuit before competing at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lausanne 2020. After winning YOG gold in both halfpipe and big air, as well as a silver in slopestyle, the 17-year-old has firmly established herself as one of the rising stars in the sport, and is now hoping to inspire others as she targets a return to the podium on home snow at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
How do you look back on your time at the Winter YOG Lausanne 2020?
“I think it was such an amazing experience for me for a lot of reasons. One of them was that that was actually my first big air contest ever, so it was also my first time doing three events [with slopestyle and halfpipe] and really juggling the practice and the competitions back-to-back-to-back. And so, managing that pressure consistently for a week straight taught me a lot. But overall, I just look back and think it was such an amazing time there, and so much fun.”
You had already won on the World Cup circuit before competing in Lausanne. Were the YOG still an important event for you?
“Yes, absolutely. It was really a super special opportunity for me to be able to compete on the world stage, especially with the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing coming up as well. It was a super good experience, and the competition felt different in a way from other competitions. I'd been to a few World Cups prior to competing at the Youth Olympic Games, and I had won a World Cup already, but still, it truly felt like a world-class competition. And with the ceremonies and all the athletes staying together from different sports, that was definitely a highlight for me as well, meeting the bobsleigh team or the hockey team from different countries – people who I wouldn't normally meet just at a ski competition. So, it was truly a global thing, and that contributed to this atmosphere of feeling like a world-class event.”
How did it feel to compete in the Chinese uniform?
“It truly was a really special moment because I think the Olympic Games mean so much to every athlete, no matter where you're from, but right now I think the Olympic Games have a very special meaning in China, just because it's serving to act as a platform to introduce the sport to so, so many people who previously had never heard of it. China has an ambition to get 300 million people on snow before the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, and so there's this burgeoning and explosive opportunity to introduce the sport and passion for sport to so many people. So, the Olympic Games mean a lot to a lot of people in China. And so having that platform to be able to compete in, and bring awareness to, the sport and encourage young girls and teenagers everywhere, I think is really special. And I felt super lucky.”
What are your goals for the next year?
“The focus is definitely on the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. I am planning to do multiple World Cups. I definitely need to get out there and have my World Cup debut for big air, because I haven't competed in a big air event since the Youth Olympic Games. I'm also putting a little bit more focus on halfpipe than I did before. Obviously not detracting at all from slopestyle or big air, but just because I have more time to ski now. I'm really excited about that. Going to World Cups and just getting competition experience I'd say would be the biggest thing. Pushing myself in the sport, advocating for the sport, as always, and hoping to see more girls out here as well.”
Do you feel that your experiences in Lausanne will help prepare you for Beijing 2022?
“Yes, totally. I think learning to manage pressure is probably one of the biggest things an athlete has to do. Obviously, you can do tricks and practise well, and you can train well in the gym and on snow, but when it comes down to it, the biggest question is: can you perform? And I think, on the day, that is the deciding factor because there could be 10 people or 20 people who could win the event, but it really comes down to who has the mental strength to push through under pressure. And I think the Youth Olympic Games have definitely prepared me for that.”
Looking ahead, what is your main ambition for your career?
“I've actually done a lot of thinking about this recently because, for me personally, my goal is to win Olympic gold. That to me is just representative of excellence in sport; it's the top achievement undisputedly. And so, that would be so rewarding for all the work that I've done to achieve greatness in the sport. But I think beyond that, I really want to be able to do something and make a difference with the platform that I have earned and hopefully will expand on in the future.
I love having the opportunity to ski, I love winning, but at the end of the day, I think what's most rewarding is to be able to inspire change in other people.Eileen Gu
And so, I'm super grateful that the Olympic Games are going to give me the opportunity to do that and that the Youth Olympic Games already have. If I'm 80 years old and looking back at my life, I don't think the number of medals is going to matter as much as memories of reading messages from young girls saying that I was the one who inspired them to start skiing, or who showed them that it was possible to do bigger tricks and that women could do it too.
To be able to inspire them – that's a really big thing for me. And I also just want to enjoy the experience. I have a lot of things going on in my life, but I think it’s important to be able to enjoy the road that I feel very lucky to be on. Not many people have the opportunity to compete at such a high-level event in front of the world. So, I'm really, really grateful for all the opportunities I've had. And my biggest ambition is just to make a difference and to be able to utilise those opportunities for the greater good.”