U.S. teen skier looks to inspire Chinese young women through sports

Eileen Gu hopes to use sports to inspire young women in China (3:20)

Eileen Gu, a 16-year-old American-born skier, who will be competing for China at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, wants to inspire young women in China through sports. (3:20)

Eileen Gu seems no different than the average 16-year-old. Aside from juggling school work, she finds herself busy with activities such as writing and having fun with friends.

But the San Francisco native also enjoys being outdoors -- often times at a ski resort -- embracing her identity as the one of the nation's top young skiers and competing in major global events.

"She said this many times that when she's in school, she's fully in school. When she's skiing, she's fully in skiing," Gu's best friend, Ellie Schatz, told ESPN.com.

What also makes Gu special is her mission. Born to a Chinese mother, Eileen -- also known as "Ailing" in Chinese -- can switch between her Bay Area accent and Beijing dialect seamlessly, and she hopes to use sports as a cross-cultural bond to inspire young women in China.

"Since I was little, I've always said when I'm in the U.S., I'm American, but when I'm in China, I'm Chinese," Gu told ESPN.com in a recent interview leading up to International Women's Day. "I preserve it by having friends and being able to communicate with people because that's the best way to transmit culture."

Gu's pathway to skiing began at age 3. When she was 9, Gu competed in her first ski contest as the only girl in her discipline at the event. That same year, she met one of her idols, pioneer freestyle skier Bobby Brown, who has since witnessed Gu's monumental career moments. Brown also presented Gu a Red Bull helmet when Gu was officially invited to join the brand in 2019.

Although she grew up in American sports, Gu was also exposed to traditional Chinese language and culture; she would spend time during the summer living in Beijing and studying.

Eventually, Gu's appreciation for her Chinese roots led to a crucial moment in her career. Last year, she announced her decision to compete for China in the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, a move that has made headlines on Chinese media outlets.

Since then, Gu has won gold medals for China at notable international events, including the Freestyle Ski World Cup in both slopestyle and halfpipe disciplines in Canada a few weeks ago.

"It really just is unique to me," Gu said. "I think because the sport is international, my whole message is that I want to make sports international."

Extreme sports were introduced to China less than two decades ago. By representing her mother's home country in the Olympics, Gu said she hopes to spread inspire and encourage more Chinese teens -- especially young women -- to participate in the extreme sports.

"When you have an opportunity to try something, always take it," Gu said, "because the worst that can happen is you don't like it, even if that means if you're the only girl in something that you're afraid to do and overcoming speaking up at a board meeting or speaking up in class or sitting next to someone who normally don't sit next to at lunch -- just kind of encouraging people through my participation in an extreme sport and my participation in extreme sport in China, competing in China."

With her 2020 season concluded, Gu now has her eyes on some big-ticket events for next season, including X Games Aspen.

"The only goal I can have is being able to do my best," Gu said. "Everyone wants to win. Everyone goes to the Olympics. Everyone there is an elite athlete who has experienced an amazing level of success. In order to be the best among the best. I really just have to double down, focus, overcoming the pressure individually and also being able to overcome what other obstacles might stand in your way."