Star athlete Eileen Gu, the poster child for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, will be an ambassador for the U.S. bid to host the 2030 or 2034 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Her announcement on Tuesday has renewed a debate over her loyalty and divided the Chinese internet.
Gu disclosed her role as an ambassador for the U.S. at the TIME100 Summit, when asked if she would switch sides and compete for the U.S. if it wins the bid to host the Games in the future.
“I think that’s this beautiful example of globalism and of the capacity that we can use skiing and we can use sport and we can use winter sport to connect people… I’m really honored to be a part of the whole thing,” said the 18-year-old athlete, who switched her allegiance to China for the Winter Games in February and won three medals in freestyle skiing events.
“There’s certainly a growing percentage of people who see her as an American that is coming to China for the money. This confirms their suspicions,” Mark Dreyer, founder of the news site China Sports Insider, told VICE World News.
The California-born athlete has cashed in on her popularity in China and earned more than $31.4 million in brand endorsements in 2021 alone, according to a market research firm. But her decision to represent China has stirred controversy, particularly amid growing geopolitical tensions between China and the U.S. The freeskiing champion has dodged questions on whether she has renounced her U.S. citizenship or holds dual nationality, which is not recognized in China.
Speaking at the summit, Gu said she has received tremendous support from the U.S. ski team since she was a teenager. “When I told them I wanted to compete for China in the upcoming Olympics, it was to inspire young girls, it was to spread the sport, it was to create a shared future of globalism. They were 100% behind me,” Gu said. “They continued to be incredibly supportive. The same is true of the Chinese side.”
On the Chinese social media site Weibo, where Gu’s announcement has become a trending topic, some pointed out that it is not the first time Chinese athletes have supported other countries’ applications and cited it as evidence of their global influence. For instance, the Chinese snooker sensation Ding Junhui was among international sportsmen supporting London’s bid to host the Olympics in 2012.
Other users have denounced her as an opportunist. “With this attitude of playing both sides, she is better off as a politician,” said one commenter.