Eileen Gu did what she set out to do.
Gu, the 18-year-old Californian who is competing for China at the Beijing Games, had already won two medals in freestyle skiing events. She took gold in big air last week and narrowly missed another in slopestyle on Tuesday, finishing with silver.
On Friday, she entered the halfpipe – which she believes is the best of her three events – seeking a trifecta.
With a large crowd of Chinese fans cheering her every trick, she easily scored a 95.25 on her second run, putting her far above the rest of the field. By the time she was up for her third run, she had already won gold.
Her halfpipe win completed the goal she had set for the Winter Olympics: to win three medals for China.
Gu was going to try a final run with a difficult cork 10, to show off a bit, but her teammate Kexin Zhang fell and hit her head, then struggled to get up before skiing down the halfpipe. That made Gu reconsider a risky run.
“It kind of woke me up, and I’ve never taken a victory lap before in my entire life, so I felt like, ‘You know what, last event at the Olympics, it feels like I finally deserve it,'” she said. “I’m really happy.”
Canadians came in strong after Gu, with Cassie Sharpe taking silver and Rachael Karker bronze. Sharpe, who won the halfpipe gold at the 2018 Olympics, came back from knee surgery last year.
“I’ve been through hell and back the last year, so I’m just so grateful that all the pieces that I’ve worked so hard on came together today,” she said.
Gu’s competition also included her top rival, Kelly Sildaru of Estonia, the only other woman who competed in all three of Gu’s events. Sildaru, who finished fourth, said the halfpipe was a little slow on Friday when it was windy, especially the right wall. But she was happy with her performance.
“These Olympics have been amazing,” she said. “I’m just happy now that I can go back home and rest a little bit.” She earned one medal, a bronze in slopestyle.
The United States had a strong contingent, led by the 17-year-old Hanna Faulhaber, who was fourth at the world championships last year, and Brita Sigourney, 32, who won the Olympic bronze four years ago. Faulhaber finished sixth, Sigourney 10th and Carly Margulies 11th in the 12-woman final.
Gu has attracted international attention – and some debate – for her decision in 2019 to represent her mother’s homeland.
The decision was barely noted when she was 15 and the Beijing Olympics were nearly three years away. Now Gu dominates her sport and finds herself straddling a growing geopolitical rift between her two countries.
Yan Gu, Eileen’s mother, was born in Shanghai and raised in Beijing, the daughter of a government engineer. She emigrated to the United States about 30 years ago for postgraduate studies and settled in San Francisco.
Eileen Gu, raised in San Francisco, has become a model, representing luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany. She has so many sponsorships in China that she is a ubiquitous presence in advertisements and receives glowing coverage from the state news media.
Gu has said that she wants to be a bridge between the United States and China while inspiring young women and helping China’s nascent winter-sports industry to grow. She and her mother have declined to discuss any of the thorny geopolitical issues that involve the rival countries.
Gu knows the last two weeks will change her life forever.
“It has been two straight weeks of the most intense highs and lows I’ve ever experienced in my life,” she said.