SPOTLIGHT: EILEEN GU

Created: 20 December 2021


Eileen Gu has already cemented her place in the freeskiing and entertainment history books. At just 18 years old, Gu won three medals as an X Games 2021 Rookie and is the youngest person named to the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Sports and Entertainment list. Gu, who is American-born but representing China, got her start as a freeskiing grom at Northstar, CA, and as a part of the USASA North Tahoe Series. She quickly climbed the USASA ranks, winning her first Open Class National Championships at 13. It was around this time that Gu made the decision to compete for China to bring awareness and representation to other AAPI and Chinese athletes. Gu, who has graced the pages of Vogue, ELLE, InSyle, Cosmopolitan and is a global ambassador for Victoria’s Secret and Tiffany & Co, said that the decision to represent China wasn’t entirely well-received and that the racist and spiteful comments spiked again along with the rise in Asian hate crimes. 

As USASA and the world works towards greater inclusivity and representation we had a chance to connect with Eileen Gu and talk about diversity in skiing and snowboarding, how to balance school and sports -- Gu who graduated high school in just 3 years will be attending Stanford University in fall of 2022 --  and how she is preparing to make history at the 2022 Olympics as a triple gold medal favorite in freeski halfpipe, slopestyle, and big air.  

What were your first USASA experiences like? Any vivid memories you'd like to share? 
I was the only girl in my age group. Didn’t make winning any less sweet. Getting to nationals and bragging about winning to my friends at age 9 made me feel like this career was a possibility. Also, I won a week at summer camp so that was really exciting. Honestly felt really included- love the grandness of the awards ceremonies, it really builds community.

 
The start, Eileen Gu owning the podium at USASA National Championships.

Can you share your perspective on competition? 
Competition experience serves as both a starting point into the competitive ski scene (for those who want to pursue skiing) and also an opportunity to learn about aspects of competition that apply to many situations in life down the line (even if you don’t become a pro skier) - dealing w pressure, breaking your own boundaries, the euphoria of success after putting in the work to get there, etc.

Have you had any adverse situations that you have had to deal with, and how did you deal with them?  
Making the transition into pro skiing & switching to China was hard. I got a lot of hate & racist comments online. Honestly, I had to deal with that external hate alone. I have many supportive friends, but American-born AAPI  skiers are very rare and some experiences can’t truly be understood unless you live in them. I definitely felt singled out and alone. Happened again this year during the spike in Asian hate crimes -- I also broke my hand at the same time right before world champs, and felt shaken, both physically & emotionally. The USASA series in Aspen was holding a comp and allowed me to join their training. The kids were so sweet and welcoming and I definitely felt that training session helped me ultimately win World Champs a week later. 

 
Eileen in Paris on one of her various modeling career stops.

Do you have any ideas/suggestions to help further DEI in the USASA community? What more can USASA do?
The skiing demographic is very white… It's hard to help BIPOC kids compete if they aren’t even in the freeski sport. Maybe pop-up clinics at resorts where USASA often holds events? I think the events themselves are great & at this point, it’s more about awareness of underrepresented groups. 

How are you preparing for your first Olympic Games? Has your focus, training or perspective shifted as we head into the games?
Gym time, prioritizing sleep, not putting pressure on the contest but using it as motivation for the daily things. Trying to focus on mental stuff - gratitude, starting to learn more about staying present. 

 
Eileen is off to an amazing start this season, winning Grand Prix Halfpipe, Big Air and Dew Tour Slopestyle.

What are you looking forward to this season? 
Skiing. Competing. Getting my run consistent so I can peak at the right time. 

How do you balance freeskiing, modeling, sponsor obligations, and school? Any wisdom for up-and-coming student-athletes?
Everyone has 24 hrs in a day. I choose to spend 10 hours sleeping, so I have 14 free hours a day. I’m not going to ski for 14 hours- nobody does. So how do we choose to spend that time ‘off?’ It’s easy to feel like we don’t have enough time in a day, but think about all the time we spend on our phones, daydreaming aimlessly…every minute can be used. Think about the time in the car! 

I think it comes down to blocking time effectively and spending it purposefully. At least, that’s what I have been working on as of late. In terms of doing things that don’t traditionally go together… it’s your life! Nobody cares as much as you think they do, so go and do the things you enjoy so that you can do yourself the favor of living a fulfilling life. And trust me, school is cool. Being smart is cool. Find things that interest you in the world and find a way to approach them from an academic perspective. 


Where it all started -- Eileen winning 2017 National Championships

Any advice you want to share with the next generation of USASA athletes? 
Stick with it!! Things change so fast when you’re young. The hours you put into getting better during this time pay off exponentially. Focus on building a solid foundation, and enjoy!!! 

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