Two Olympic Skiers Show Great Promise Amidst Controversy

Even before the first skier hit the snow in Beijing, China, the Winter Olympics had generated more than its share of controversy. The Washington Post noted that China is hosting the Olympic Games while also committing genocide of Uyghurs, repressing Hong Kong and Tibet, and allegedly holding tennis star Peng Shuai captive. The New York Times reported that the U.S. is boycotting the games diplomatically but is still competing athletically. As alpine and freestyle skiing competitions begin, excitement and anticipation bubbles in fans, reporters and spectators alike. 

One reason for the excitement is 18 year-old Eileen Gu. Gu is the world’s top female freestyle skier in the halfpipe, slopestyle and big air events. She is also a professional model from San Francisco and will enter Stanford University in the fall of 2022. Gu will be competing for China, her mother’s native country.

The child of a Chinese immigrant mother and American-born father, Gu has cryptically said that she hopes her decision will “unite people,” SCMP reports. She also hopes to be a role model for young Chinese women, whom Gu believes are in greater need of a role model than young American women, according to SCMP. In addition, she may be attracted by endorsement opportunities that should come her way in China. Gu could perhaps gain as much acclaim as Chinese National Basketball Association (NBA) star, Yao Ming, according to Business Insider. Gu is both the halfpipe and slopestyle world champion, and third in big air. She is currently a favorite to win the gold in all three events.

The U.S. will have to pin its hopes instead on the world’s best female alpine skier, Mikaela Shiffrin. Six weeks ago, Shiffrin was holed up in a hotel with COVID-19, the first time in her life she has ever taken four days off in a row from skiing. Shiffrin, who is also still mourning the loss of her father in February of 2020, is back now and fresh off her 47th World Cup slalom win. She will likely race in all five events – downhill, giant slalom, super G, slalom and combined, one run of slalom and one run of downhill.

If Shiffrin wins two medals, she will become the most decorated U.S. women’s skier of all time. Three medals would tie her with Bode Miller for most all-time by any U.S. skier and tie her with two non-U.S. skiers for most all-time medals by any female skier. On Sunday evening, Shiffrin fell on her first run in the giant slalom and was eliminated from medal contention in that event, on a course that was exceptionally steep and victimized many other skiers as well. The downhill course is also one of the steepest in the world – it has a maximum slope of 68 degrees and can create speeds up to 90 mph.

All the snow at the Olympic games is man-made, as the mountain gets very little natural snow. Commentators and journalists, Time Magazine reports, have noted that the artificial snow is fast and unusual, but that the skiers have said that they appreciate that it is smooth and not icy. This is the first world-class alpine race ever held on this mountain, making it unfamiliar to all the competitors, which should set us up for an interesting and challenging two weeks.