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Eileen Gu: The Freestyle Skier Who Won Over Calgary’s Heart

Calgarians cheering for controversial freestyle skier illustrates resilience against racism and inclusivity

Calgarians were packed like sardines at WinSport’s Canada Olympic Park in Calgary to cheer on Eileen Gu, a freestyle skier who competes for China.

Gu competed in the FIS World Cup freeski halfpipe final over the weekend. Her stellar performance earned her a shiny gold medal. 

It’s rare for Calgarian to turn out to cheer for non-Canadians, let alone athletes competing for China. 

But while soaring on the halfpipe, Gu was met with overwhelming support from the Calgary crowd. Proving, once again, that no one cheers louder than Albertans. 

But why was there so much support for Gu, a non-Canadian athlete? 

Eileen Gu stands on the podium at the FIS World Cup freeski halfpipe final in Calgary | Dave Chidley | The Canadian Press | CBC News
Eileen Gu stands on the podium at the FIS World Cup freeski halfpipe final in Calgary | Dave Chidley | The Canadian Press | CBC News

Naturalized

Her story is unusual. 

Gu was born in San Francisco but chose to become a naturalized Chinese citizen and become the first naturalized Chinese free-skier. Naturalized people are legal citizens of a country they were not born in. 

Gu’s status as a naturalized citizen stirred the pot and upset some people. 

Despite this, Gu has built quite a following since becoming the youngest Olympic champion in freestyle skiing at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. 

Gu was 18 when she made the historic achievement and was named by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in the ‘Pioneers’ category in 2022. 

On TikTok, Gu has been criticized for being a traitor for choosing to compete for China despite being born in the US. 

But in the face of criticism, Gu has chosen not to let her status define her, claiming, “I’m American when I’m in the US and Chinese when I’m in China.”

Gu’s refusal to be defined by her status is something Chinese and East Asian Canadians look up to and feel inspired by. 

“Seeing the demographic out here tonight, seeing the people cheering, seeing people get excited and, more than anything, hearing the stories of, ‘I started skiing because of you,’ — I’m incredibly grateful,” said Gu.

When Eileen Gu isn't skiing, she is a model | Dirk Bruniecki | British GQ
When Eileen Gu isn’t skiing, she is a model | Dirk Bruniecki | British GQ

Icons Of Hope

As tensions between Canada and China have risen in recent years, Canada has seen a spike in Chinese and East Asian-Canadian hate crimes

Calgary was no exception, despite the fact – or maybe because – the city is home to one of the highest populations of Chinese and East Asian residents in Canada.

People like Gu empower Calgary’s population of Chinese and East Asian Canadians to stand tall in the face of racism.

Being Canadian is about more than just a piece of paper; it’s about defining yourself through how you support your community, family, and friends. 

That support was on full display at the FIS World Cup over the weekend, with cheers exploding from the crowd as Gu popped open a celebratory bottle of champagne. 

Yan Gu, Eileen’s mom, was grateful for the community’s support, stating, “Thank you, Calgary. We love it here, and it’s incredible; she’s doing what she is doing.”

Anti-Asian graffiti in Calgary during the COVID-19 pandemic | Mike Symington | CBC News
Anti-Asian graffiti in Calgary during the COVID-19 pandemic | Mike Symington | CBC News

A Prestigious Background

Eileen takes after her mother, who emigrated from China about 30 years ago and raised Eileen as a single parent. 

Yan came from a prestigious background. 

Her father was the most decorated chief electrical engineer of China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development

Yan left China and moved to the United States, where she became a ski instructor at a resort near Lake Tahoe. 

Yan did not abandon her background by emigrating from China, nor is she any less American because she was not born in the United States.

And Eileen obviously feels the same.

“There’s no need to be divisive. I think everything I do, it’s all about inclusivity. And it’s all about making everybody feel as connected as possible,” said Eileen

Including everyone and making them feel connected is part of what makes our province so great. 

Not everyone will agree, but the crowd at the FIS World Cup sure did.

Eileen Gu with her mother Yan Gu (left) | The Strait Times
Eileen Gu with her mother Yan Gu (left) | The Strait Times

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