An American deserter and Olympics superstar has given China a dream political win, but it couldn’t cover up a blatant act of propaganda.
Californian-born Eileen Gu won gold for China at the Beijing Winter Olympics — and then repeatedly refused to answer the burning question surrounding her defection from the United States to the host country.
Gu, already arguably the biggest star at the entire 2022 Games, secured a thunderous political win for China when she claimed gold in the inaugural women’s freeski Big Air with a stunning jump she had never tried before.
She shed tears of joy after only picking up the gold medal with her final run.
“The tears were mostly of joy, that I had pushed myself to the absolute limit,” Gu said.
“That was the best moment of my life. The happiest moment, day of my life. I just cannot believe what just happened.”
The 18-year-old has been the headline story of the Games after she left Team USA officials baffled by her decision to represent China while the country remains accused of abusing human rights and engaging in unfair trade policies.
Her face has been everywhere, flooding TV ads, promotions and billboards.
It’s why she is a powerful weapon for China at the Games — and it was on full display during her event when former tennis doubles world number one Peng Shuai also popped up cheering her on from a VIP section of the crowd.
Peng alleged in a social media post in November that former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli forced her into sex and she was not heard from for nearly three weeks, prompting concern around the world about her safety.
Now the stunt is being called out as an act of propaganda from the Chinese government, attempting to smooth over a saga that has heaped international pressure on the country.
It didn’t take long for the dark side of Gu’s Olympics fairytale to emerge after the victory as she repeatedly refused to directly address questions surrounding her American citizenship.
China does not allow its citizens to carry dual citizenship.
USA Today’s Dan Wolken posted on Twitter she showed impressive athleticism in dodging the questions.
“I definitely feel as though I’m just as American as I am Chinese,” she said.
“I’m American when I’m in the US and Chinese when I’m in China. Both continue to be supportive of me because they understand my mission is to use sport as a force for unity.
When asked how she is juggling trying to keep her fans in both countries, her answer surprised reporters at the post-even press conference.
“I think that here’s the thing I’m not trying to keep everyone happy,” she said.
“I’m an 18 year old girl out here living my best life. I’m out here having a great time.
“It doesn’t matter if other people are happy or not. I’m doing my best. I’m enjoying the entire process and using my voice to create as much positive change as I can in an area that is personal and relevant to myself.”
She went on to say she is not going to try to “placate people who are uneducated”.
Gu is competing in two more events in Beijing — the freestyle halfpipe and slopestyle — so could become the first freestyle skier to win Winter Games medals in three different disciplines.
“I don’t want to think about the next two events, I am a very fast-pace person, so I just want to soak it all in,” she said.
Gu, whose father is American, will see her already huge popularity in China increase further after winning Olympic gold.
She is a model and ambassador for several luxury brands, but she says the work she put in to win the gold medal happened far away from any spotlight.
“There were no cameras in the gym when I worked out after eight hours of modelling or at 4:00 pm when I hiked up to get the last ski lift so I could try one more jump,” she said.
The level-headed teen is grateful for all the support she has received from her Chinese and American fans.
With striking eyes that led her to modelling deals with Victoria’s Secret and Vogue and more than 400,000 Instagram followers — and now the first of what she hopes will be three golds — Gu will have a large platform to influence. She will enter the slopestyle and halfpipe events as the favourite to win.
After her final run, with tears in her eyes and the shouting done, she could be heard telling herself, “Definitely not crying, definitely not crying.”
— with AFP, New York Post