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Gu shines in Olympic debut



Teenager wins women's big air event to stay on course for three gold medals

Teenager wins women's big air event to stay on course for three gold medals

With the world hailing the arrival of a new sports superstar, China's freeski Olympic champion Gu Ailing wants to remain the girl next door to inspire more youngsters to push their own boundaries.

Carrying the host nation's biggest medal hope on the snow, Gu, a versatile skier competing in three events at the Beijing Winter Olympics, delivered big time on Tuesday. The 18-year-old won the freestyle skiing big air event with dazzling maneuvers.

Gu was pushed hard by silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, who finished the first two runs on top. On her third and final run, Gu gambled on a trick she'd never done in competition before-a left double cork 1620 jump that involves four-and-a-half spins while rotating two times off-axis in the air.

To a rousing reaction from the crowd, Gu landed the maneuver to take the gold with a winning total of 188.25 points, which included 93.75 from her first run after she landed a double cork 1440. Competitors do three runs and only the two best scores count toward the final total.

Ledeux had a chance to win the gold, but failed to nail her final run. She had to settle for the silver, while Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland took the bronze.

"I've thought about it a lot, but to put it down (left double cork 1620 jump) for the first time on my third run in the first Olympic freeski (big air) final in history means the world to me," Gu said after her victory.

"My mom called me asking me to play (it) safe before the third run as I'd secured a medal. But I didn't listen to her and gave it a go, not trying to beat anyone but to elevate myself to the next level."

Ledeux, the 2019 world champion in the event, slumped to the snow in tears after missing out on the gold, but was gracious in her praise of Gu, despite her own disappointment.

"She works very hard," 20-year-old Ledeux said of Gu. "There is a very good ... (atmosphere) in freestyle skiing in general. She is very focused on her job, and she is an amazing athlete."

Gu was born in the United States to a Chinese mother and US father. When she announced in June 2019 that she would represent China at the Beijing Winter Olympics, she was subjected to criticism and unfair comments on social media in the US that her decision was driven by commercial benefits from the host nation.

Gu said at a news conference on Tuesday she was not trying to make anyone happy when she was questioned on the criticism she had faced following her decision to represent China.

"I know that my reasons for making the decisions I do are based on a greater common interest and something that I feel is for the greater good," she said.

"And so if other people don't really believe that's where I'm coming from, then that looks like they do not have the empathy to empathize with a good heart, perhaps because they don't share the same kind of morals that I do."

Gu's victory at the Big Air Shougang venue in western Beijing was China's third gold medal of the Games.

After her golden start, Gu, a two-time world champion, will contest the halfpipe and slopestyle events in the co-host city, Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, starting on Sunday.

If she succeeds in her multi-event campaign, she will be recognized as the most versatile freestyle skier at a Winter Olympics and drive China's burgeoning winter sports market.

Despite her newfound fame, Gu insisted she'd continue living her life like any other teenager.

"What? Am I already an international superstar now? No way! I cannot even imagine that," an excited Gu told reporters. "I feel I am still an ordinary 18-year-old girl who just loves freestyle skiing. I still get to call my grandma after this, look after my cat, hang out with friends and play games on my phone."

She said she wanted to send a message to young people, especially girls interested in winter sports, to "just go for it and try to push the boundaries as much as they can".

Gu has pushed boundaries her entire life. She took to the slopes in North Lake Tahoe, California, at age 8.

Today, Gu is an Olympic champion, an incoming Stanford University student, a part-time fashion model and an accomplished piano player.

She is also on track to become a bright sports star in the world's most populous nation. Gu is called the "Snow Princess" by her 3.4 million followers on Sina Weibo.

Gu prides herself on understanding the two cultures she straddles, and her affinity with China is strengthened by her family's ties with Beijing.