U.S.-born ski star seals hero status in China with Winter Olympics gold

In Wangfujing, a famous shopping district in central Beijing, a crowd of spectators gathered spontaneously in front of a big TV screen on Tuesday morning.

“It’s very cheering. She’s of Chinese origin and has returned to China. I feel proud of her,” said Beijing resident Jiang Yu, 36, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, people rushed online to celebrate Gu’s victory on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. As of Tuesday morning, one hashtag about her win had received over 900 million views. Of the site’s top trending topics, five were about Gu.

“18-year-old Eileen stands on the podium and tells the world: Confident Chinese look so beautiful,” one user commented, quickly receiving over 32,000 likes.

Users later reported that the network had temporarily gone down following her win, according to Chinese news outlet Phoenix New Media.

Since choosing to side with China in 2019, Gu has said repeatedly that her goal is to encourage girls and women to take up winter sports. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Not all US-born athletes competing for China have been equally embraced by the Chinese public, however.

Figure skater Zhu Yi, 19, came under attack on social media after she crashed into a wall during Sunday’s women’s short program team event. So she finished last in Monday’s free skating event, bursting into tears after stumbling during her routine, according to the South China Morning Post.

Social media posts mocked her for falling while others criticized her for not being fluent in Chinese.

“It’s such a shame for our country,” said one Weibo user, referring to Zhu’s performance. “Why did we send such an athlete and not to mention we are the host country.”

“There’s no next time,” wrote another user, under a video of Zhu crying at the end of her performance, according to The AP. “How shameful.” That comment was liked more than 45,000 times.

Zhu Yi gave up her US citizenship in order to compete for China in Beijing.David J. Phillip / AP

The abuse contrasts starkly to the adoration received by Gu.

As online criticism of Zhu mounted, Gu came to the defense of her teammate.

“Making mistakes and pressure are all part of sports,” she said at a news conference after her victory, according to The AP.

But she also responded to an Instagram post by the US news site Insider reporting on attacks on Zhu by Chinese social-media users.

“As someone who actually uses Chinese social platforms I’m going to say right here that over 90 percent of comments are positive and uplifting,” Gu commented. “It’s part of the sport and everyone understands rhat [sic].”

Associated Press other NBC Olympics contributed.

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