Eileen Gu, the U.S.-born and -trained skier who represented China in this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, is now pushing for an upcoming Winter Olympics to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah.
At Tuesday’s TIME100 Summit in New York, which Time magazine billed as a gathering to “spotlight solutions and encourage action toward a better world,” Gu said her new role was a “beautiful example of globalism.”
In a media advisory provided by the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, Fraser Bullock, president and CEO, said Gu would be a global ambassador who would speak “to the vision of growing sport worldwide through the Olympics.”
“Our bid for 2030 or 2034 will focus on using our Games as a catalyst to energize winter sport worldwide,” Bullock said. “Eileen has been effectively aligned and engaged in this same vision. As a global ambassador, she can carry that message to millions worldwide.”
The Salt Lake City mayor’s office told VOA Mandarin in a written statement, “A key vision for us as a bid group is to use the platform of our Games to help grow interest in winter sport globally. Eileen is a[n] exceptional spokesperson for that.”
Both the Salt Lake City committee and the mayor’s office declined VOA’s interview requests for comment, as did Gu’s agent.
The Chinese state-run Global Times said in an op-ed that it was “not surprising” for Gu to represent Salt Lake City, and that this was not the first time that athletes had supported the hosting applications of countries other than their own. For instance, Taiwanese American tennis player Michael Chang was an ambassador for China’s 2008 Olympic bid, while Chinese snooker sensation Ding Junhui supported London’s bid to host the Olympics in 2012. But neither competed for countries other than his own.
Born in California, Gu decided to compete for China at the 2022 Beijing Olympics when she was 15. Even before winning two gold medals and one silver in February, she was one of the most marketable athletes in China — with lucrative sponsorship deals, Vogue covers and a huge fan base — where she emerged as the unofficial face of the Games.
Questions about her nationality dogged her, however. The freestyle skiing champion repeatedly dodged questions about whether she had renounced her U.S. citizenship to ski for China or held dual nationality, which is not recognized in China.
When she announced her decision to join China’s team, Gu said only that “I am proud of my heritage, and equally proud of my American upbringings.”
Gu’s latest switch quickly became a trending topic on Chinese social media. On Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, content related to Gu’s move received more than 430 million views within 48 hours.
At the TIME100 Summit, Gu said she did not regret swapping allegiances ahead of the Beijing Games. In February, she said she wanted “to energize youth in China to engage in winter sport.”
Although Gu’s online supporters in China praised her “international influence as a Chinese athlete,” her Salt Lake City role isn’t sitting well with some Chinese netizens, who called her citizenship “flexible.”
“Of course, she doesn’t regret,” a Chinese netizen commented. “Billions of yuan of endorsement fees. She wouldn’t have got that much for representing the U.S.”
Another netizen mocked her by rewording the famous poem “Goodbye Again, Cambridge” by Chinese poet Xu Zhimo: “Very quietly I take my leave / As quietly as I came here; gently I stroke my skis / Billions of yuan of endorsement fees will I bring away.”