Eileen Gu, a New Deified Human

Willa Wang, Assistant Forum Editor

“Pretty much all of my excitement in life comes from fear … The uncertainty, I think, is addicting,” Eileen Gu told The New York Times in a video interview.I admit it. I’m in love with fear.”

I believe it’s human nature to be afraid of, nervous about or upset with any kind of fear, but Eileen Gu, an 18yearold professional freeskier, loves fear. You’ve probably heard of her name. In the 2022 Winter Olympics, which just ended, Eileen Gu won two gold medals — one in halfpipe and one in big air — as well as a silver medal in slopestyle. As an Olympic medalist, a Chinese American, a freshman at Stanford, a celebrity, an endorser with brand deals for over 30 companies and someone who has over $10 million in individual value, Eileen has become an icon of this era. What kind of person is she to love fear? She’s a new deified human. 

Eileen was born in 2003 in San Francisco. Her mother, Yan Gu, accompanied her and appeared in many interviews and documentaries. Yan was born in China in the 1960s; after receiving her BA and MA from Peking University, the most prestigious university in China, she studied abroad in the U.S. and pursued her Masters and MBA at Auburn University and Stanford, respectively. Yan later worked in the investment banking industry; she’s also a skiing coach, which helped Eileen get the chance to know the sport, too. 

Because of her success in the Olympics, Eileen became popular overnight. However, questions and rumors about her nationality were quick to follow. 

Yan is Chinese and a single mother, so Eileen legitimately held Chinese citizenship when she was born. However, since she was born in the U.S., she also holds U.S. citizenship. It is legal for people in the U.S. to be dual citizens as long as they pay taxes for two countries, but it’s prohibited for a Chinese citizen to have another citizenship. When a person who holds two citizenships turns 18, they have to give one up, and when it comes to choosing which citizenship to relinquish, a person’s parents can’t represent them at any age. People have to decide their citizenship on their own.

Eileen announced that she was going to represent China for the 2022 Winter Olympics in 2019 when she was 16, meaning that she was still young enough to hold two citizenships in China. At that point in time, Eileen hadn’t stated that she had given up her U.S. citizenship. During this year’s Winter Olympics, things became complicated. People in the U.S. were upset with Eileen because she still also holds U.S. citizenship. They gave her two choices: either give up her U.S. citizenship, or give up representing China in the Olympics. You may ask, didn’t Eileen already give up her U.S. citizenship before she attended the Winter Olympics because she’s already 18 years old?

This is the catch: in China’s law, people can hold two citizenships in the six months after they turn 18; the law offers this flexibility. Eileen was born on Sept. 3, 2003, which means that six months hadn’t yet passed when she went to the Winter Olympics this February, so it’s her right to not give up her U.S. citizenship. As of now, Eileen hasn’t stated what her citizenship choices will be. However, Eileen’s eventual citizenship decision has made her medal achievements a recent topic of interest. If Eileen chooses to keep her U.S. citizenship, will her performances and medal achievements in the 2022 Winter Olympics still be attributed to China? 

Discussion on Eileen’s citizenship suddenly paused when the Winter Olympics ended. However, many questions remain and have fueled speculative yet intrusive discussions. Which identity did Eileen use when she signed contracts with Chinese companies for being their branding celebrity? Did she go to Stanford as a Chinese international student with an F-1 visa or a U.S. domestic student? Did Stanford offer her financial aid or scholarship, which international students are unable to apply for? What citizenship does she hold now? If she still holds two citizenships after six months have passed since she turned 18, does that mean China admits dual citizenship now? The invasive discussions surrounding Eileen’s citizenship need to end, as they involve a number of inappropriate assumptions about people, parties and their interests. However, it may be important to question how the rules have been applied in Eileen’s case for future Olympians.

Beyond Eileen’s dual citizenship and related issues, the Olympian’s story also shows how a mother has cultivated her child intentionally and wholeheartedly: Yan is a single mother. Eileen’s grandmother was an engineer of the Ministry of Transport in China at a time during which only a handful of girls went to college. Eileen, therefore, grew up in a family of female power. When she was just 12 years old, Eileen had already given a speech on gender inequality in sports. While Eileen was attending high school in the states, she self-studied all of her courses for a year in order to practice for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Her resilience and determination made her a successful Olympian. 

As a Chinese American, Eileen is fluent in Mandarin. She went back to China every year when she was little, lived in her grandparents’ house and talked to other kids in Mandarin, which helped her develop parts of a Northern Chinese accent. Eileen took extracurricular classes — especially in preparation for the International Mathematical Olympiad — in China. However, with advice from her mother, Eileen went back and forth between the U.S. and China to study throughout her childhood, which helped her thrive in both educational systems.

Many Chinese parents hope that their children will get ahead and do better than they did. Yan isn’t an exception. Eileen’s U.S. and Chinese dual citizenships brought her privileges; her U.S. and Chinese teachings helped her thrive in both educational systems; and she self-learned high school courses in order to practice skiing. These are the great plans of a mother.

As an icon of this era, Eileen is unique: she shares many experiences with the majority, but she’s also challenging numerous social norms. Everything about Eileen seemed too ideal in terms of a human. Her stories made many people on social media anxious — she’s too young or too accomplished, so many have questioned her and her success. However, I argue that Eileen is too different to be compared. She’s challenged too many frameworks and rules of this world, and her dedication to her journey certainly isn’t run-of-the-mill.

Eileen is deified. She is an example of a new human in this new era. She is completely perfect in front of others. She is temperate, she is brave, she is knowledgeable, and she is accomplished.

The 2022 Winter Olympics have already passed, but Eileen signals the arrival of a new age. A number of young athletes and students are currently growing up in incredibly controlled environments. They are designed and controlled to try their best to benefit from fixed rules. Many parents are eager to cultivate their children to be the best humans on the planet because they view children as an extension of their own lives. This might be our human nature: While we are born to be finite, we never stop taking steps to approach gods and be infinite.