The Untold Truth Of Olympic Skier Eileen Gu

Chances are you've heard the name Eileen Gu, the athlete taking the Olympics by storm thanks to her impressive talents as a freestyle skier. At just 18 years old, Gu already won gold medals in both the 2021 Winter X Games and World Championships, before competing in the 2022 Winter Olympics. While Gu was born and raised in California, the teen chose to compete for her mother's native country of China instead of Team USA, a controversial decision that landed Gu in the headlines. 

When it comes to the sport that made her a star, Gu gushed to Forbes, "I absolutely love skiing. It's the most fun thing for me." However, the San Francisco native isn't just an athlete, she's also a fashion model and a scholar, who has a ton of interests, hobbies, and even side gigs outside of skiing. Gu seems to be all about switching things up. She explained, "​​My whole life is a bunch of things you wouldn't expect to go together," adding, "that enriches my life all the more, and the contrast is what makes it fun." She reiterated that point to V Magazine, saying, "I would like my legacy to be one that highlights the possibility of excellence in multiple fields."

Eileen Gu appears to be excelling in everything she does, all while being one of the stand-out stars of the 2022 Olympic Games. Let's get to know the teen who's becoming a household name in both the U.S. and China.

Eileen Gu began skiing as a toddler

Eileen Gu has apparently been skiing for as long as she can remember, since she first hit the slopes at age 3. According to ESPN, that's when her mother, Yan Gu, enrolled her in lessons in Lake Tahoe, and it just seemed to click. That may be due to Eileen admitting to Time that she's "been an adrenaline junkie from day one," against her mother's liking. The athlete even joined a free-skiing team at age 8, because Yan thought that speed skiing was too dangerous. 

Eileen was raised by her mother and grandmother in San Francisco. When it came to her skiing, the teen told The Red Bulletin, they felt "if I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it well, because otherwise it's a waste of my time." And she definitely did it well, even from the beginning. Eileen recalled to V Magazine, "Being the first [girl] on my all-boys team to slide a rail sideways at age 8 ... after breaking past my own fears was the spark that got me hooked." 

From there, Eileen took home her first major title at age 15 while competing in the FIS Freeski World Cup, per the South China Morning Post. A pretty impressive feat for someone who just skied during the weekend, considering she had to put school first. Yet the Olympian credits her success to how she was raised, gushing, "My grandma gave me that drive and desire to win and my mum gave me the tools to do so."

She made her Winter Olympics debut in 2022

Eileen Gu is hoping to add Olympic gold medalist to her accomplishments when competing in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. It's the model's first time competing at the games, but she's been ready. She told The New York Times in 2021, "Right now my training days are pretty intense. I ski from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. ... I also run because it's part of my daily routine." Her former training camp coach, Peter Olenick, emphasized Gu's dedicated focus, telling the New York Post, "She is the first one at training and the last to leave. She competes in multiple events; then she goes home to run and train. That is unusual."

It seems that Gu had done a lot of her training in the States as part of Team USA's rookie team, which she was part of until 2019, per ESPN. That's when she made the decision at age 15 to compete for China instead. While U.S. Freeski head coach Mike Jankowski did attempt to convince Gu to stick with his team, he stated, "We have a ton of respect for her decision. ... To be able to honor her heritage in that way is really cool."

Gu announced her plans on Instagram that June, calling it "an incredibly tough decision for me to make." She explained, "The opportunity to help inspire millions of young people where my mom was born, during the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help to promote the sport I love."

Her decision to ski for China caused controversy

Pro-skier Eileen Gu's decision to compete for China instead of Team USA in the 2022 Winter Olympics caused a lot of controversy. Gu made it clear in her announcement that she "hope[d] to unite people, promote common understanding, create communication, and forge friendships between nations." But she told Time that the post still led to death threats and that her "direct messages were absolutely flooded ... with just hateful things." Her comments section was also filled with negative feedback, with some people calling her a "traitor." Fellow athletes even publicly denounced Gu, with former X Games champ ​​Jen Hudak telling the New York Post, "She became the athlete she is because she grew up in the United States, where she had access to premier training grounds and coaching that, as a female, she might not have had in China."

What's more is that, according to ESPN, Gu has been accused of being used as China's "political tool," and was criticized for endorsing a country with several human rights violations. It's those violations that even led to the Joe Biden administration issuing a diplomatic boycott of the Olympic Games since they were to be held in Beijing. 

Gu has never commented on these issues or whether she had to give up her U.S. passport to compete for China, considering the country doesn't allow dual citizenship. However, she did tell Forbes, "I already have so much experience in China-U.S. relations, doing interviews about cultural bridging and working as an ambassador leading up to 2022."

Eileen Gu has other hobbies outside of skiing

While skiing may be what Eileen Gu is known for, she has other hobbies outside of the sport. One of those things is long distance running, which Gu told The New York Times is part of her "daily routine." She revealed, "I actually was a competitive cross-country runner for seven years." Gu also played basketball and learned to play classical piano, according to Forbes.

Additionally, the model is clearly into fashion and often shows off her outfits on her Instagram. She once dished in her Instagram Story (via Inquisitor), "Fashion is so fun and creative, and it meshes really well with skiing because it creates a perfect balance so that it keeps both things interesting for me." Yet it's among several interests, since also Gu revealed to her followers that a list of things she likes would consist of "my friends, writing, running, my cats, physics, acting, fashion design, reading, art history."

However, there is one thing that probably tops all of that — and that's food. Gu told The New York Times, "I discovered I love food. I'm going to Stanford, and I'm going to study journalism because I want to do food reviews." She reiterated to Forbes that her dream job is a "food connoisseur," considering "there are very few things I love more than eating." Yet at the end of the day, Gu told Bloomberg she's pretty much a normal teen who likes to "hang out with my friends, build pillow forts, watch movies."

The athlete made history at the X Games

Even before the 2022 Winter Olympics, Eileen Gu already had several gold medals under her belt. In 2021, she not only won three medals at the Winter X Games but also took home two at the World Championships (via Specifically at the X Games, she became the first Chinese citizen to win the gold, and later revealed to Forbes, "It was huge deal to me. That was the main reason that I decided to ski for China." She added, "In the U.S., I grew up with all these idols. ... Looking over to China, I just realized I wanted to be able to be that for somebody else."

Yet that wasn't the only record she broke. Gu told, "I was the first person in history to win three medals in her rookie year at the X Games, so that was really insane." She continued, "It all did a lot for my confidence and taught me a lot about dealing with pressure especially in competing."

Despite her training, Gu wasn't expecting to make history, admitting to The Aspen Times, "This is something I wouldn't even dare to dream of. I came into this contest with a goal of getting one podium, and I thought that was ambitious." When it came to her win, she attributed it to "the adrenaline of my first X Games and being so hyped to be here that it was able to get me through." She added, "I couldn't be happier."

Eileen Gu is a fashion model

Eileen Gu isn't just known for her skiing — this Olympian is also an up-and-coming model who has already graced several magazine covers and worked with high-end fashion brands. According to Forbes, her career as a model started when she attended Paris Fashion Week in 2019 as a guest of a brand based in China that was apparently aware of her passion for fashion. Gu recalled to V Magazine, "I remember my fellow front-row attendees and the designers of multiple shows celebrating unconventionality, and feeling inspired by the recognition that divergence from the norm should be applauded."

From there, Gu was signed to IMG Models (who rep supermodels like Gigi and Bella Hadid) and went on to land the covers of magazines like Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, and L'Officiel. She even scored an invite to the exclusive Met Gala in 2021, which she called "a night I'll never forget" in an Instagram post. Gu gushed to that when it comes to her modeling, "I have just been learning so much about the fashion world and figuring out what I want my space in that to be."

It's clear the fashion world has space for Gu, since she's a brand ambassador for Victoria's Secret, Tiffany & Co., and Louis Vuitton, to name a few, as of this writing. Gu seems to be enjoying it, too, telling Forbes, "I absolutely love it," while noting that it's "actually really similar to skiing." She explained, "It's creative and expressive and unique, and being different is a good thing."

The pro-skier and model makes time for side gigs

Eileen Gu clearly keeps busy, but she still finds the time for a few side projects outside of skiing and modeling. One of those is her online series with Red Bull called "Everyday Eileen," which gave viewers a glimpse into Gu's life as she trained for events during the 2020 and 2021 ski seasons. It also follows her life off the slopes, like her New York City photoshoot, or when she found out she got into Stanford University. According to Bloomberg, Gu did a similar documentary for her Chinese fans on the site Youku.

When Gu isn't filming her life, she apparently likes to share her writing. In February 2022, the Olympian wrote an essay for The New York Times. She posted a passage on Instagram, writing in the caption, "​​I've been writing for as long as I can remember, and one of my biggest dreams has always been to share my work with a bigger audience." That wasn't Gu's first time being published though. The skier had guest-edited one of Vogue's January 2022 issues, for which she shared that she also "wrote an essay." 

For those wondering how Gu finds the time, she told fans (via Inquisitor), "My life is busy, but if u care about something u can always make time no matter how busy you are." She added that even with working she "still leaves plenty of time to go on runs, take online classes, see friends, read books, write op-eds."

The teenage Olympian is a social media influencer

Eileen Gu has a large social media following, making her quite the influencer in both the U.S. and China. According to the Independent, the teen has over 1.3 million followers on the Chinese social media site ​​Sina Weibo, where she goes by Ailing, which is her name in Mandarin. In the U.S., Gu has an impressive Instagram following, as well, with over 356K followers.

From the looks of Gu's Instagram, she seems to be aware of her influencer status. When she's not sharing perfectly posed photos of her adventures or awe-inspiring videos of her skiing, Gu posts content from photoshoots, as well as her magazine covers. Yet Gu keeps it real with fans, too, by holding Instagram Q&A's so they can get to know the real her. During one Instagram Live session, she dished (via Inquisitor), "Everyone has the same amount of time in a day, I just try to fill mine with things that feel productive/ppl I actually care about."

Additionally, like a true influencer, Gu is frequently solicited for lifestyle tips. For example, when asked about her beauty routine, Gu told The New York Times, "Normally, I just do my eyebrows," and when questioned about her diet, she revealed, "I eat everything in balance." However, Gu did clarify that teens should be careful with who they follow on social media. She admitted, "I got stuck on those TikTok videos that document 'what I ate today,' which was all disorders! ... I realized later that I was truly being influenced by them."

Eileen Gu has an impressive education

It's no secret that Eileen Gu made her education her priority early in her ski career. Not only did she ski just on the weekends so she could focus on school, but Forbes reports that she also refused her 2020 X Games invite for the same reason. According to Bloomberg, the athlete attended an expensive all-girls private school until 8th grade, and later the esteemed San Francisco University High School. It seems Gu is grateful for that time, telling The Red Bulletin, "I had the most normal childhood compared with anybody else on the World Cup circuit. ... Nobody knew about my skiing or cared."

Yet Gu wasn't your average student, with her grandmother teaching her multiplication at age 4, and her later studying micro- and macroeconomics, astrophysics, and quantum mechanics as a teen. With that said, it should come as no surprise that Gu got a near perfect score on her SATs, which put her in the top 99th percentile in the U.S. The Olympian even graduated from high school a year early.

Gu has since been accepted to Stanford University, but decided to defer her admissions until Fall 2022 so she could compete in the Olympics instead. However, that seems to be part of her plan, since she dished to Forbes, "I've always said my two biggest goals are to go to Stanford and go to the Olympics," adding, "They symbolize the epitome of their respective fields, one in education and one in sports."

How much money does this Olympic skier make?

It's safe to assume that Olympic athlete Eileen Gu is making bank by not only being a successful professional skier but also a model for high-end brands. However, Gu's exact net worth hasn't been released. While The Economist estimates her competition winnings to be around $12,000 for international championships, like most professional athletes, most of her income appears to come from sponsorship deals with brands that range from Red Bull, tech company, China Mobil, Cadillac, China Mengniu Dairy, and Anta Sports.

As The Economist recapped a Beijing News report, she had "two dozen" endorsements by February 2022 that could have potentially been paying over $2 million each, and she'd already banked over an estimated $15 million the previous year. Gu also presumedly takes home the big bucks from her modeling campaigns with Estee Lauder, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., and Victoria's Secret. That's not counting whatever salary she earns from her modeling agency, IMG models, which reportedly pays an average of around $201,000 a year.

Gu's net worth may be on the rise following the 2022 Winter Olympics, too. The New York Post reports that her decision to compete for China over the U.S. could result in a much bigger pay day. The head of an Olympic skiers training facility explained, "She is the golden star for the country with the fastest-growing economy. She can be the Tony Hawk of winter sports in China." Gu seems well on her way since, according to ESPN, she's already a recognizable celebrity there, whose photos are plastered all over Beijing. 

Eileen Gu uses her platform for change

Eileen Gu isn't about just making money, she's also about creating positive social change. The professional skier says she's been open about her experiences with racism in order to help others. She revealed to Highsnobiety, "In the ski community where I'm the minority, I try to be as vocal as possible. ... I do notice that I'm the only person of Asian descent." She continued, "A lot of the racism I face happens on social media ... and it's a cause that I've taken up and tried to speak out about, leveraging my platform as much as possible."

Gu has also spoken out about the bigotry Asians faced early in the COVID-19 pandemic. She recalled a particular incident to Time when she was at a pharmacy and saw an Asian-American man be berated by a customer. "I grabbed my grandma and ran out of the store," she said. "That was the first time that I actually felt in danger because of a racial thing." Gu has challenged other Asian stereotypes, as well, like always doing well in school, when she revealed, "It's destructive when it becomes limiting in the sense that you are dismissed for that role or expected to have this attribute."

Additionally, it's important to the Olympian to be a role model for aspiring female athletes. She told Forbes, "My biggest message is just to encourage young girls in sports, extreme sports especially, to break boundaries and not feel too intimated by being the only girl or being the youngest."