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Eileen Gu tackles Slopestyle qualifying after snow delay

The Eileen Gu show shifted to the mountains, as China’s new favorite Olympian – an 18-year-old freestyle skier from California – began competing in the second of her three events.

Gu, who grew up in California but competes for China, has become a favorite in women’s slopestyle, the event where competitors traverse a mountainous course of rails and obstacles before landing a series of three big jumps.

On a sunny but bitterly cold Monday morning at Genting Snow Park, a day after snow and wind postponed the event, Gu struggled on his first run but scored a 79.38 on his second, a performance that would not fail to make it to the rank of 12 women. final, scheduled for Tuesday morning (Monday evening in the United States).

She said afterward that qualifying “is always scary” and headed to the halfpipe for a practice session. She must compete there on Thursday.

There were lots of spills on the slopestyle course, which snowboarders had previously called one of the trickiest and most technical courses they’d seen.

The 27 competitors each had two points, noted by a jury. Only the best score counted. Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru, considered Gu’s biggest rival in the event, started with an 80.96 that virtually guaranteed her a place in the final.

Gu already has a gold medal, in big air, won in spectacular and unexpected fashion last Tuesday in an industrial park in western Beijing. Her win catapulted her to another level of fame and scrutiny. Afterward, she deftly fielded questions from reporters for more than an hour while brushing off probing questions about her citizenship status.

The Olympics has a policy that athletes must be citizens of the country they are competing for, and China does not allow dual citizenship.

Gu, whose mother was born and raised in China and has ties to Beijing, is a ubiquitous figure here. His face adorns advertisements of all kinds and his exploits receive constant attention on public news channels.

His portrait, made up of 500 drones, lit up the sky in southern China after his great aerial victory.

But Gu has also intervened in a controversy over internet freedom in China, as some question her use of social media sites banned in China, describing Gu as privileged and unable to understand the plight of millions of Chinese living under censorship.

The question for the second week of the Olympics is whether Gu can keep winning, keeping his popularity and marketing opportunities intact while avoiding geopolitics and questions about his citizenship.

Slopestyle is a fitting event for Gu, who showed technical prowess on rails from a young age, working with the US national team (she moved to China in 2019). She is a daring jumper, as demonstrated by her big win in the air.

In a handful of international competitions over the past year, Gu has won or finished second in every slopestyle event. His biggest threat at the Olympics would likely come from France’s Sildaru and Tess Ledeux. It was Ledeux who led the big air event until Gu’s last jump lost him the silver medal.

Gu’s third and final competition is Friday in the halfpipe, another event she has dominated for the past year. Her popularity has already skyrocketed and it’s hard to imagine how big she will be if she manages to leave Beijing – on her way back to San Francisco – with multiple gold medals.

Tags : united states
Margarita W. Wilson

The author Margarita W. Wilson