Gu Ailing of China poses during the awarding ceremony after winning the women's freeski halfpipe at Zhangjiakou Medals Plaza of the Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, north China's Hebei Province, Feb. 18, 2022. (Xinhua/Xue Yubin)
As an American-born Chinese, Olympic gold medalist Gu Ailing hopes to spread a healthy lifestyle and bring the world closer together.
by Martina Fuchs
GENEVA, April 2 (Xinhua) -- Following her historic performance at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics nabbing two gold medals and one silver, Chinese freestyle skier and sports sensation Gu Ailing says she's on a new mission to spread a healthy lifestyle and bring the world closer together.
Asked about how she feels about being a role model and having inspired millions of Chinese to learn winter sports and hit the slopes, the world's best freestyle skier and China's new sports icon shared her thoughts with Xinhua in an interview via video link.
"It's a huge honor to be able to have the reach that I have now, to be able to have so many people who maybe have never even heard of freestyle skiing before, and to be able to hear it for the first time from me, a young biracial girl," she said on the sidelines of an event in Beijing by luxury Swiss watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen.
One of the most watched athletes at this year's Winter Games, Gu became the first freestyle skier to win three medals at one Olympics: halfpipe gold, big air gold, and slopestyle silver.
"My biggest goal is to inspire more kids in China, especially young girls to hear about free skiing and to try it out for themselves," the new Olympian said.
Skiers from Heilongjiang Province participate in a training session at Yabuli Ski Resort in Harbin, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Jan. 21, 2022. (Xinhua/Xie Jianfei)
According to China's National Bureau of Statistics, over 346 million Chinese people have participated in winter sports activities since Beijing's successful bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics in 2015.
BEYOND SPORTS: ON A BIGGER MISSION
Gu, who is also a fashion model and incoming Stanford University student and counts 6.5 million followers on China's Weibo and 1.5 million on Instagram, has attracted an ever-growing list of Chinese and foreign consumer brands that are eager to have her as an ambassador.
International brands such as French luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton and Chinese sportswear maker Anta are already working with her, while global endorsements include names ranging from IWC Schaffhausen, Victoria's Secret, Tiffany & Co. to Oakley.
She underlined that she wanted to use her massive social media following to make a positive impact in society.
"I'm focusing on using my voice and the platform that I got from the Olympics to be able to continue promoting skiing and a healthy lifestyle that includes changing beauty standards, promoting confidence and health instead of starving yourself or not being able to go outside. This is part of my message right now, and I'm speaking out on it whenever I can."
"I always want to speak out about health. I want to promote sports. And I just want everybody to be confident and happy," Gu said, adding that she could also consider organizing competitions and camps for girls in China further down her road.
SPORTS HAVE NO BOUNDARIES
Her decision to represent China in 2019 at a time when she had a firm spot on the U.S. freestyle team, despite being born and raised in San Francisco, had been heavily scrutinized on social media and drawn criticism in the United States.
Gu Ailing (front) parades during the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games at the National Stadium in Beijing, capital of China, Feb. 20, 2022. (Xinhua/Li Ga)
But being a cultural hybrid is part of the identity and personality of the three-time Olympic medallist, who was raised by her mother Gu Yan who emigrated from China to the U.S. about 30 years ago.
"Ever since I was little, I've always said I'm Chinese while I'm in China, and I'm American when I'm in the U.S.. I feel as though both countries have contributed equally to creating the person that I am today. There's no sense of competition. There's no sense of one is better than the other," she highlighted.
"It really is about appreciating different facets of each one and applying the most relevant and the most, the parts I can learn the most from each culture and I think that is what has given me the perspective that I have. It's given me the cultural resiliency that I have, and it's given me an appreciation for different cultures around the world. In that sense, I feel a deep sense of respect and appreciation for both cultures."
Gu, swiftly switching between her Beijing dialect and California accent during the interview, said that she hoped to build more bridges between different cultures through sports.
"Sports have no boundaries. They don't have age, gender, race or cultural limits. Everybody can participate. That's the easiest way to form a communication between different countries, and to foster interconnection."
PASSION FOR FOOD
Gu has also made headlines for her love for food, after her video of munching on a traditional Chinese snack "jiucai hezi," a pan-fried dumpling filled with chives and vermicelli noodles, while waiting for her score in the slopestyle qualifying round went viral on Chinese social media.
Gu Ailing eats "jiucai hezi" during women's freeski slopestyle qualification of Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, north China's Hebei Province, Feb. 14, 2021. (Xinhua/Xue Yubin)
"My favorite Chinese food is dumplings, but it has to be the homemade kind. For Western food, anything with truffles, really. I've been a truffle fan forever. I travel with my own white truffle oil."
"Any time that I spent in China, I'm always learning more. Because China's such a diverse place with so many regional dialects, different kinds of food, different cultural nuances," Gu emphasized.
"One of the things I love the most about China is food and especially meal culture. Like the big spinning table and everybody has the dishes on the table and you all share everything. That's so much better than just ordering one dish."
"There's so much more diversity and more options to try everything and the sense of shared culture and shared time and shared enjoyment of food is something that I think is deeply representative of the Chinese culture," she explained.