BEIJING (Reuters) -San Francisco-born Eileen Gu, who lifted the host country to the top of the medals table at the Beijing Olympics with a freeski Big Air gold on Tuesday, remained evasive on whether she was still holding an American passport.
China does not allow dual nationality, and state media have previously reported that the 18-year-old renounced her U.S. citizenship after she became a Chinese national at the age of 15.
Gu would not confirm that on Tuesday.
“So I grew up spending 25-30% (of my time) in China. I’m fluent in Mandarin and English and fluent culturally in both,” she answered, when asked if she was still an American citizen.
“So coming here, I really feel there was a sense of coming home. I feel just as American as Chinese. I don’t feel I’m taking advantage of one or another. They understand that my mission is to foster a connection between countries and not a divisive force.”
When the reporter asked again, the news conference moderator interjected: “Next question, please.”
The fashion model and incoming Stanford University student whose Weibo following has ballooned to almost three million from just under two million on Monday, says she feels at home in China.
“There’s like a tower here you can see from the top of the course. And I’m also seeing it from my house in Beijing,” she explained, where her face is ubiquitous in advertising.
In 2019, China relaxed rules that had been in force for more than a decade barring national team athletes from taking part in commercial activities without approval, paving the way for Gu to become the face of Chinese brands from Bank of China and China Mobile to Mengniu Dairy and Luckin Coffee.
Hugely popular in China, Gu has had a better Olympics so far than Zhu Yi, the figure skater who gave up American citizenship in 2018 to compete for China and was blasted on Weibo when she fell during her short programme in the team event on Sunday.
The hashtag “Zhu Yi has fallen” later disappeared from Weibo.
Gu offered her support.
“I just met Zhu a few days ago. I went to see her training. She’s such a nice person. She’s amazing. Whoever qualifies the Olympics is already amazing,” she said.
“Making mistakes under huge pressure is part of sports. We should have sportsmanship and we can’t always do our best on the platform, but the most important thing is she’s safe and she enjoys the process.
“Of course everyone hopes she can do better, but she is the one who hopes she could do better the most. I hope people can understand her more.”
(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)