Eileen Gu, the California-born athlete who won two gold medals for China in freestyle skiing at the recent Beijing Olympics, has signed on to work for Salt Lake City’s bid for the 2030 or 2034 Winter Olympics.
Tom Kelly, a spokesman for the bid committee, confirmed Gu’s participation to The Associated Press on Tuesday as an “athlete representative.” Gu made the announcement earlier at the Time100 Summit, calling herself an “ambassador.”
“She is working with us,” Kelly said, “but we haven’t chosen her exact title.”
The choice could be controversial — or inspired.
The 18-year-old Gu was born in the United States to a Chinese mother, but competed for China almost four months ago and won two gold and one silver medal in Beijing. In explaining her choice, she often said she wanted to inspire young Chinese women.
In announcing her role with Salt Lake at the Time event, she said skiing and her position with the bid committee was a “beautiful example of globalism.”
Gu is expected to attend Stanford University this fall.
Her passport status has come under scrutiny. China does not officially allow dual citizenship, and Gu has never clarified if she still holds American citizenship, has renounced it, or if she has a Chinese passport.
The state-controlled Chinese media never seemed to raise the issue, initially welcoming the medals she won for her mother’s homeland.
To the non-Chinese media, she often offered unclear answers. Some of the scrutiny was viewed as unfair, although she was placed in the spotlight by lucrative commercial deals offered by China.
Gu’s announcement was a trending topic on Chinese social media where opinion was divided but largely positive. Many pointed out that Time referred to her as “China’s Eileen Gu,” saying this showed the global influence of a top-level Chinese athlete.
Others, however, questioned what they characterized as her divided loyalties.
Her move to work for the American bid could eventually damage her popularity in China as memories of Beijing fade, and particularly in a time of heightened geopolitical tensions between the two countries.
Gu attended an assembly of Chinese Olympians in early April at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where Xi Jinping — the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party — singled her out for recognition.
“Gu Ailing loves to eat Chinese pies,” Xi said, using her Chinese name, going off script, and drawing some laugher. He was referring to Gu being seen a few times during the Olympics enjoying a Chinese dumpling.
Salt Lake is bidding for the 2030 Winter Olympics along with Sapporo, Japan, and Vancouver, British Columbia. Spain has also expressed interest.
The International Olympic Committee is expected to name the venue at meetings in May 2023 in Mumbai, India. It could also select the venue for 2034.
The IOC has lined up the Summer Olympics for Paris in ’24, Los Angeles in ’28 and Brisbane, Australia in ’32. The 2030 Winter Olympic venue is the next open slot on the calendar.
Kelly, the Salt Lake spokesman, said Gu would not travel next week to Lausanne, Switzerland, with a delegation from Salt Lake to meet IOC officials. Kelly said the head of the bid, Fraser Bullock, and American skier Lindsey Vonn would be going.