AP – Eileen Gu (AP, pic below) the California-born athlete who won two gold medals for China in freestyle skiing at the recent Beijing Olympics, signed on to work for Salt Lake City’s bid for the 2030 or 2034 Winter Olympics.
Spokesman for the bid committee Tom Kelly confirmed Gu’s participation to the Associated Press on Tuesday as an “athlete representative”. Gu made the announcement earlier at the Time100 Summit, calling herself an “ambassador”.
“She is working with us,” Kelly said, “but we haven’t chosen her exact title”.
The choice could be controversial – or inspired.
The 18-year-old Gu was born in the United States (US) to a Chinese mother, but competed for China almost four months ago and won two gold and one silver medal in Beijing. In explaining her choice, she often said she wanted to inspire young Chinese women.
In announcing her role with Salt Lake at the Time event, she said skiing and her position with the bid committee was a “beautiful example of globalism”.
Gu is expected to attend Stanford University this fall.
Her passport status has come under scrutiny. China does not officially allow dual citizenship, and Gu has never clarified if she still holds American citizenship, renounced it, or if she has a Chinese passport.
Chinese media never seemed to raise the issue, initially welcoming the medals she won for her mother’s homeland.
Gu’s announcement was a trending topic on Chinese social media where opinion was divided but largely positive. Many pointed out that Time referred to her as “China’s Eileen Gu”, saying this showed the global influence of a top-level Chinese athlete.
Others, however, questioned what they characterised as her divided loyalties.
Her move to work for the American bid could eventually damage her popularity in China as memories of Beijing fade.
Gu attended an assembly of Chinese Olympians in early April at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where Xi Jinping – the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party – singled her out for recognition.
“Gu Ailing loves to eat Chinese pies,” Xi said, using her Chinese name, going off script, and drawing some laughter. He was referring to Gu being seen a few times during the Olympics enjoying a Chinese dumpling.
Salt Lake is bidding for the 2030 Winter Olympics along with Sapporo, Japan, and Vancouver, British Columbia. Spain also expressed interest.