Eileen Gu, the 18-year-old freeskiing star representing Team China heated up the Winter Olympics by winning won two gold and one silver medal in Beijing. Wha’s also been heating up is the debate about her decision to compete for Team China.
Gu was born and raised in San Francisco and initially competed for the U.S., where she first discovered her passion for the skiing. She acquired Chinese nationality in 2019, according to the International Olympic Committee(IOC)
That year, Gu posted on Weibo saying that she would represent China at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Her decision has pushed her into the spotlight and people started to question her intentions and the reasons behind the change.
The reasons behind Gu’s decision to change her nationality
Gu was born to a Chinese mother from Beijing and an American father. She said in a documentary released by Youkou Documentary in 2021 that she spends time in China every summer and has always enjoyed her time there.
“Nobody can deny I’m American. When I go to China, nobody can deny I’m Chinese because I’m fluent in the language and culture and completely identify as such,” she told to South China Morning Post (SCMP) an interview.
Gu mentioned in an Instagram post that changing her nationality “was an incredibly tough decision to make.” But she is “proud of [her] heritage and equally proud of her American uprisings.”
According to her mother, Gu “was hoping to inspire millions of young people in China.” She noticed the efforts that China has been putting into the Olympics and she thinks competing for China is an exciting opportunity for her to “not only can make [her] dream come true but hopefully help change the culture of sports there, too,” she said in the documentary made by Youkou.
Questions about Gu’s current nationality
Athletes with multiple citizenships can choose to present any countries that of their choice, and a competitor would be eligible to participate in the Olympic Games “either by representing another country than his or by having the choice as to the country which such competitor intends to represent,” according to the Olympic Charter.
According to the Chinese Nationality Law, China is one of the countries that have a policy against dual nationality, which means a person won’t be able able to obtain two or more passports. If the person holds other passports, their Chinese nationality will automatically be dismantled. In this case, Gu needed to change her nationality from American to Chinese in order to compete for Team China.
However, the government record shows no evidence that Gu has already renounced her American citizenship.
When she was being asked about her nationality in an interview with the state-run news outlet Xinhua, she replied “I’m American when I’m in the U.S., and I’m Chinese when I’m in China.”
The geopolitical tensions between China and America
It is not uncommon for athletes to switch their citizenships, said Susan Brownell, an expert on Chinese sports at the University of Missouri-St.Louis.
But why has Gu’s action caused this much attention worldwide?
“It would be less of a deal if an American hockey player joins the Canadian team,” said Justin Daul, an American citizen who works for the military. “Just let her be what she wants to be.”
There are many athletes with multiple backgrounds competing in the Olympics, but “given the tensions between China and America and her Asian American identity, it made the issue more noticeable to the public,” said Edward Yang, a student who studies International Relations at the American University in Washington, D.C.
According to the documentary made by Youkou, Gu mentions that she has three roles – “a high school student”, “an athlete”, and “a public figure.” And she has learned to balance them since she was young since they are all important to her. But “sometimes the world can only see one or two sides of mine,” she said.
“I think the most important thing is to be yourself.”