An uncommon athlete for these curious times, two-time freeski world champion Eileen Gu is a scholastic prodigy, a fashion darling, and poster-girl for the Beijing 2022 Winter Games. Her sense of fun and love of the sport are a bonus.

Forget flopping on a beach, tripping round Thailand, or tramping through the capitals of Europe. Eileen Gu’s gap year is upon her and—after graduating a year early from her San Francisco high school, achieving a near perfect SAT, and deferring a place at Stanford University—this 17-year-old wonder has other, bigger plans. She’s headed for the Olympics.Last winter, Eileen set and cleared another high bar at the 2021 Aspen X-Games. Eileen seems to have a special affinity for Aspen winning three medals, two golds and a bronze, in slopestyle and in the superpipe at the 2021 Aspen X Games. She returned in the spring to claim two golds and a bronze at the FIS Snowboard and Freeski World Championships that same year. Update: Beijing 2022 Eileen Gu wins the gold medal in Women’s Big Air.

Her wins at Aspen made her the first Chinese competitor to win gold in the event’s history, and the only rookie to win three medals. A few months later, she competed at the FIS Snowboard and Freeski World Championships in star-struck Aspen and scooped another three medals—with a broken finger, a torn ligament, and no poles.


At age 18, she is only approaching her physical and skillful peak—Eileen’s timing for the 2022 Winter Olympics could scarcely be better. But ‘better’ is not a concept that this smart, enthusiastic and downright joyful young woman buys into. Eileen Gu is about being The Best.

When asked about disappointments in her life, she states matter-of-factly “While it’s not the biggest failure of my life, or really a failure at all, being fourth is indeed a hard position to end up in. There have been two fourth places in my life and I’d rather get last, I’d rather crash because at least I feel like I tried. I really don’t think too much about them, I definitely feel angry instead of defeated, motivated instead of beat down. Resilience is probably my favorite quality about myself.” 

Her approach to training is relentless, she regularly puts in the long days and is often the last person hiking up the hill, determined for one more try. “If I’m not able to land a trick, I’ll say to myself that I won’t be able to leave until I can. My mom and coach will be sitting on the side asking ‘Can we please leave?’”

In this nascent and still-developing story, Eileen is quick to credit her coaches as “really supportive” alongside the most prominent people in her life—her Beijing-born mother, who travels “everywhere” with her and her grandmother who lives with them in California and during holidays in China. 

“They’re definitely the definition of empowered women—extremely independent and fierce and confident and won’t let anyone tell them otherwise.” Eileen describes her grandmother as “probably the most competitive person I’ve ever met”. It was her mother’s “pragmatic work ethic”, a quality which drove her own successful MBA-driven career, which taught her the ins and out of setting and achieving goals. “Anyone can want to win,” she says, “but my mom gave the tools to do so.”

In an era of shallow influencers and global shooting stars, Eileen’s sights are already set well beyond her own already formidable achievements. With a substantial following in both the West and the East (she’s fluent in Mandarin and despite being born in the US, will compete for China in the upcoming Olympics) she’s already cutting her diplomatic teeth in cross-cultural mentorship. 

“One of my biggest goals is to encourage young women to start participating in extreme sports,” she declares, hoping her increasing exposure will be a boon to her compatriots. “The Olympics is such an international event—it’s ingrained in public culture and gives niche sports like freeskiing an opportunity to be seen, as well as the females in a male-dominated sport.”

While she admits growing up skiing among mostly boys was “helpful” to her advancement as a skier, she describes her younger self as “really shy” and, combined with having an all-girls education from kindergarten through eighth grade, Eileen believes young girls experience different kinds of hurdles than those encountered by boys. “They train equally hard and try just as hard as men but working through confidence issues, being put down, and being questioned constantly is probably the biggest difference. We have to deal with being in the minority, I guess.”

Exhibiting no sign of gen-anything malaise—to the contrary, Eileen is a study in advanced can-do.

“I wouldn’t cut myself slack: like, oh well, I’m sliding around doing flips so therefore I can afford to do worse in calculus. In school, I wanted to be the best, I wanted to be top in the class. And in skiing, I wanted to be the best. That was non-negotiable for me.” Her familial influences run deep. “I come from a long line of engineers, so education has always been the number one.”

Aspiring students and concerned parents, take note: here’s another soundbite destined for your dinner tables and your weekend car rides to the mountains: “Being good at school was never something I was willing to sacrifice in order to ski. In fact, studying was my number one priority until last year when I graduated early and started skiing full-time before the Olympics.” 

So little time, so many triumphs. We can’t help wondering what motivates Eileen to win at everything?

Beijing 2022 eileen-gu-2022-half-pipe-win

“In my head, I feel I should experience more pain than I do in order to justify the joys and successes that I have. That’s a mentality I’ve been working to let go of. You shouldn’t have to pay for your happiness. It’s something everybody deserves.”


“I fail all the time, but I don’t really think of it as failure. There have been contests I’ve entered that I haven’t won. I don’t really think of that as failure: if I did the best I could and I didn’t match up on the day, then I don’t really feel like I’ve failed. There’s nothing I could have done better. But if I feel like I messed up my own performance—which is over 99 percent of the events that I do consider failure—that’s what I would dwell on more.”

To take her mind off sports and studies, Eileen has developed in interest in fashion and has a bona fide career in modeling. First introduced to the fashion world when she attended her first Paris Fashion Week in 2019, she has watched—and walked—the catwalk, demonstrating both the eye and the body for high fashion.

“Doing sports there’s danger and adrenaline involved. But if I need to take a break from that—and everyone needs a break—fashion is a great outlet for me. It’s safe, there’s no risk,” she adds with a laugh.

“I’ve noticed a lot of parallels between fashion and skiing–there’s the individuality, the self expression, the creativity. In a sense, the core values are the same and that’s what I love most. I really love adrenaline and I’m still offered that [by modelling]. I get a taste of everything I love about skiing and I also get to rest from it.”

In a typical Eileen spin, a normal teenager’s interest has been elevated to another level. This year, she was invited to the prestigious Met Gala in New York. By sought-after invitation only, she attended the très select soirée dressed by Carolina Herrera and bejeweled by Tiffany, rubbing shoulders with other nubile athletes such as British tennis star Emma Raducanu, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, F1 star Lews Hamilton and the Williams sisters.

Dress fittings are par for the course, yet Eileen is likely to be only one in the room to be working on her Alley-oop rodeo 540 both ways, a halfpipe maneuver she recently accomplished—the first woman to do so. “If everything goes to plan, it will be the last trick of my run in Secret Garden where the Olympics will be hosted. It depends on the person but for me you get six hits in the halfpipe. I’ve already planned the other five and this is the last trick,” she says. She sounds excited when she adds, “I just have to practice.”

Eileen Gu 2022
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