Grandma key to Gu Ailing's greatness

2021-02-03 12:06:25

Gu Ailing can't contain her joy after nailing a run in the slopestyle final at the X Games en route to claiming gold. AP Chinese freeski sensation Gu Ailing credits her grandmother for making the success she is today. Gu made global headlines over the weekend by claiming two gold medals and a bronze at the X Games in Aspen, Colorado. Her performances sent expectations soaring that the US-born 17-year-old, who also goes by the name Eileen Gu, can reach the top of the podium at next year's Beijing Winter Olympics. Gu says that the energy and drive "to do your best" was instilled in her from an early age by her Chinese grandma, Guo Zhenseng. "She's invincible, I'm convinced she is immortal," Gu said of the 85-year-old in an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Sunday. "I was texting my grandmother on WeChat from Aspen, asking if there was anything I could get her when I go home," she added. "We talk every day, and are incredibly close." Gu's breakout performance in Aspen saw the teenager became the first Chinese to top an X Games podium, the first debutant at the event to win gold, and the fourth athlete in the series' history to win three medals at one meet. "Insane, just insane," a still-excited Gu said on Sunday. "I came here with no expectations, I just wanted to do my best." International media have been quick to hail Gu as a superstar in the making, but she is doing her best to take the extra attention in her stride. "I'm massively humble. I am immeasurably grateful for all the love I have received," she said. Gu arrived in Aspen in peak condition thanks to a relentless 8.5-hour-a-day training program-which she maintained even during competitions. "Knowing my competition had more time on snow, I knew I needed that intense regimen to be competitive," she said. "I experienced two types of nervousness-one over it being my first X Games, and the second over performing my tricks. So the hectic practice mitigated half of that nervousness." With a Chinese mother and an American father, Gu was born and raised in San Francisco, California, but surprised US sports experts when she announced in 2019 that she would compete for China. Gu Ailing pulls off a spectacular trick during the slopestyle final at the Winter X Games in Aspen on Saturday. AP She says her decision was partly influenced by China's plan to attract 300 million people to ice and snow sports in the buildup to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. The potential to play a leading role in that process and encourage millions of Chinese youngsters-especially girls-to pick up skis was too enticing for the then 15-year-old to turn down. She also hopes that, as an unofficial ambassador for her sport, she can ultimately bring China and the United States closer together. "It is my goal to use sports as a bridge, and then possibly policy later," Gu told Xinhua of her diplomatic aspirations. Her deep connection with her Chinese roots also made the decision easier. "I was raised bilingual, and spent every summer in Beijing, so I know Chinese culture and American culture as well. So I have that dual identity-where together, two halves make a whole for me," Gu said. Her grandma's influence has also helped her excel in the academic arena. Soon after declaring for China, Gu graduated early from high school, allowing her to focus on training for the Olympics. Having scored 1,580 out of a possible 1,600 on her SATs, Gu is due to start her studies at Stanford University in fall 2022. She's also a fashion model, an accomplished pianist, and an excellent long-distance runner. Remarkably, she often heads for runs with her evergreen grandma. "She's amazing," Gu exclaimed. "She's super fit-and runs a mile a day!" In Chinese culture, grandparents often raise their grandkids and maintain the home, thereby allowing young parents to focus on their careers-a concept which is largely alien in the United States. It is perhaps this cultural difference that gave Gu a head start in life. Grandma Guo has also ingrained in Gu a strong sense of the strength and determination of women. As a high-school freshman, Gu delivered a powerful speech to an audience of 400 people about gender equality-an experience she described as "stressful" but a huge confidence booster for the then 12-year-old. Now, with Olympic glory beckoning in Beijing, Gu's voice is going global. Xinhua