Remember the name, Eileen Gu is freeskiing's rookie ready to rule the world
© Joseph Roby/Red Bull Content Pool
Fresh off a historic three-medal haul on her X Games debut, Eileen Gu has the freeski world at her feet and with Beijing just around the corner she's ready to explode into the global consciousness.
Eileen Gu went into January's 2021 Winter X Games as an Aspen rookie, but the 17-year-old Chinese freeskiing star was the talk of Buttermilk Ski Resort as she stormed to three medals in Colorado to make competition history.
Born in San Francisco, California, Gu represents China on the world stage after making the decision to compete for her mother's nation last year. And with the Winter Gamer in Beijing on the horizon in 2022, the freeskiing prodigy is on the verge of becoming one of the global faces of the sport, all before the age of 18.
Fresh from collecting gold medals in Ski Slopestyle and Superpipe, as well as a bronze in Ski Big Air, we caught up with Gu to talk about her historic X Games debut, graduating high school early and what the future holds.
Eileen Gu's winning Superpipe run
No rookie has ever won three medals on their X Games debut. How was it to make history?
It was so much fun. Going in, I was just expecting to gain a bunch of experience, have fun and maybe podium once. I didn't expect to win or get three podiums.
The medals aside, how was the X Games experience? Was it everything you'd imagined watching it growing up?
Yeah, it was everything. I mean, obviously the crowds weren't there, but, because it was my first one, I had nothing to compare it to. And the organisation was amazing.
Of the two gold medals you won, was one more special than the other?
I would say the slopestyle one, because I've been skiing that discipline longer than halfpipe and the slopestyle field is bigger and deeper than in halfpipe. Being able to perform on that day was pretty special. Everyone in the slopestyle event could theoretically win, so that felt really special.
After those medals, do things change for the rest of the year and going into next year as well?
I'm always the youngest in my contests and I'm used to that. I’m also always asked how it feels being the youngest and being a rookie, so I always have that mindset of being the underdog and least experienced, and most of the time that's where I am. I like to keep the same thinking that every time I intend to win, but that's not the expectation.
I know I have the capability to win, but being able to put a run down in a stacked field is a mental game. It's almost a surprise when it happens and then, I guess, it puts me more on the same level as the others rather than thinking of myself of being smaller somehow, or less experienced.
How do you think you'll cope with going from underdog then to a favourite?
I grow and change. I don't think there will ever be a time where I’m complacent and think I'll win. My mum always tells me there's seven billion people in the world, so to make it to the level where you can be the best is incredible. I will never expect to win anything, just take it one contest at a time and try to keep myself humble and gracious.
Next year is potentially even bigger than the X Games with the Winter Games looming, isn't it?
I would say it's bigger, because the event's only every four years. It's the same level of competition as the X Games, but it's more rare. Knowing China, the culture and the dedication that Chinese people have, I know it's going to be big and go down in history. I know how much money, resources and effort has been spent, not just in the infrastructure, but introducing 300 million people to snow before the Games, which is nearly the population of the US. I know that when it happens it will be unlike anything else.
You've fast tracked your school graduation, so how good is it to get the studies cleared to focus on skiing?
I graduated in June 2020, the first person to graduate early in my school's history, so we first had to see if it was even allowed. It was out of the question initially, but, after checking my grades, my courses and with the dean of students, I was told it could be possible.
Now, I'm taking a gap year and then another gap year after that. I don't have to declare my major too soon, so I’ll try out a little bit of everything: molecular genetics, maybe journalism and writing as well, or computer science.
It's amazing what you've already done by the age of 17, with the skiing, school work and even modelling. Is there a danger of burnout?
People ask, 'don’t you get tired?' all the time. If you get to hang out with your friends all day and do your favourite thing, then you wouldn't be that tired. It's more like play. Sure, I get physically tired, but I sleep 10 hours a night, I see friends – I'm a normal teenager. I went to parties before the health crisis struck. I think I have a really fun life and enjoy it.
In terms of resting and having a great time, I've done that since I was little, but I'm so goal orientated – even if the goal is to do well in a class, or learn something new. It's hard for me to sit around and not do anything.