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 Winter Olympics or 2034.
Tom Kelly, 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 works with us,” Kelly said, “but we didn’t choose her exact title.”
The choice could be controversial – or inspired.
Gu, 18, was born in the United States to a Chinese mother, but competed for China nearly four months ago and won two golds and a silver in Beijing. When explaining her choice, she often said that she wanted to inspire young Chinese women.
Announcing her role with Salt Lake at the Time event, she said skiing and her position on the bid committee was a “beautiful example of globalism.”
Gu is expected to attend Stanford University this fall.
His passport status has come under scrutiny. China does not officially allow dual citizenship, and Gu has never clarified whether she still holds US citizenship, has renounced it, or has a Chinese passport.
China’s state-controlled media never seemed to raise the issue, initially welcoming the medals she won for her mother’s homeland.
To non-Chinese media, she often offered unclear answers. Part of the review was seen as unfair, despite being thrust into the spotlight by lucrative trade 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 called her “China’s Eileen Gu,” saying it showed the global influence of a top Chinese athlete.
Others, however, questioned what they characterized as his divided loyalties.
His decision to work for the US bid could eventually hurt his popularity in China as memories of Beijing fade, and especially at 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 Communist Party of China – singled her out for recognition.
“Gu Ailing loves to eat Chinese pies,” Xi said, using his Chinese name, stepping off script and eliciting laughter. He was referring to the fact that Gu had been seen a few times during the Olympics enjoying a Chinese dumpling.
Salt Lake is a candidate 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 in meetings in May 2023 in Mumbai, India. He could also select the location for 2034.
The IOC has lined up Summer Olympics for Paris in 24, Los Angeles in 28 and Brisbane, Australia in 32. The 2030 Winter Olympics site is the next open slot on the calendar.
Kelly, the spokesperson for Salt Lake, said Gu will not travel next week to Lausanne, Switzerland, with a delegation from Salt Lake to meet with IOC officials. Kelly said bid manager Fraser Bullock and American skier Lindsey Vonn would go.