It is hard to pin down Eileen Gu. If you had asked the eighteen-year-old last year what’s next for her, she probably would have said, “Being a food connoisseur”. She loves food, she really does. But right now, the freestyle skier, multiple gold medallist, accomplished runner, and high-end fashion model would admit that she is really into particle physics (more about her favourite place to indulge in physics in question 8). There’s a lot going on in Eileen’s brain, and of the 100 projects she tackles, she excels in at least 99.
EILEEN GU - THE HIGH-FLYER
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THE JOURNAL SPOKE WITH FREESTYLE SKIER AND 2022 WINTER OLYMPICS GOLD-MEDAL FAVOURITE, IWC BRAND AMBASSADOR EILEEN GU
To make Eileen’s list of accomplishments short: She was the first person, regardless of gender, to win two gold medals at the same world cup in 2020; the first female rookie to win three medals at her debut X Games; the first person to ever win three medals at World Championships; and the first person of Chinese descent to ever win the X Games, doubling China’s medal count. Eileen is also a gold-medal favourite at the 2022 Winter Olympics and one of the few female freeskiers in the world who competes in both halfpipe and slopestyle.
The JOURNAL spoke with the smart, hardworking and likable athlete who (with an SAT score of an incredible 1580) was admitted to study at Stanford University as of summer 2022.
WHAT DOES YOUR CHINESE NAME “谷愛凌” MEAN?
The first part of Eileen (愛) means “love”, and the second part means cloud. My whole family has very nature-oriented names. My mom’s first name means swallow bird, my uncle’s name means ocean. My mom and I are especially connected because we’re both flying in the sky. It’s a very free conceptual thing.
— IWC brand ambassador Eileen Gu at the Women’s Freeski Big Air World Cup finals 2021 in Steamboat, CO (photo by Getty Images)
— Freestyle skier and IWC brand ambassador Eileen Gu (photo by Getty Images)
THAT COMPETITIVE SPIRIT
WHAT ROLE HAVE YOUR PARENTS PLAYED IN YOUR LIFE?
For every kid, their parents or caretakers are the biggest influencers and shapers into their morals, values and work ethic. And that’s no different from me. My grandma is a big dreamer and very, very competitive, so I think that she instilled in me that competitive spirit. My mom is much more the pragmatic mind and gave me the tools and the work ethic. So, I think I have a good combination of both of those.
HOW DO YOU GET IN THE ZONE BEFORE A TOURNAMENT? DO YOU HAVE ANY RITUALS?
I am very superstitious, so before I compete, I do my track warm-up, so A-skips, B-skips, C-skips… (I’m in ski boots, so it looks kind of dumb). I do everything in sets of eight because eight people make finals. Then, I put my poles down: one pole has to be up, one pole has to be down. And when I drop into the half-pipe, I’ll tap my poles two times behind me, hands two times, thighs and shoulders two times, head two times. So, it’s like tap tap - tap tap - tap tap - tap tap. I’ve looked into psychology and it says that superstition is really good for competition and that it creates mentally stronger athletes.
“You ski like a guy” - I always thought that that was a compliment until I started realising the power and insane expressiveness of equating femininity to power
— Eileen Gu sporting the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 (Ref. IW388101)
— The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 (Ref. IW388104) featuring a green dial and stainless steel strap
— Eileen Gu wearing the Portofino Automatic 34 Edition “IWC X COMME MOI” (Ref. IW357410) available exclusively in China
POWER OF FEMININITY
YOUR LOVE OF FASHION, SKIING AND FOOD IS PALPABLE ON YOUR INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT. WHAT MESSAGE ARE YOU TRYING TO GET ACROSS TO YOUNG WOMEN?
I had a long and interesting reckoning journey with my own femininity. When I first started skiing, I was the only girl on my team. If coaches and teammates were all guys and presented themselves in a certain way, then I naturally wanted to emulate that, as well. “You’re just like a boy” or “You ski like a guy” - I always thought that that was a compliment until I started realising the power and insane expressiveness of equating femininity to power - as opposed to shutting down your emotions.
So, it wasn’t until I got into fashion that I started questioning that and getting in touch with my femininity. I think that skiing is very much like fashion in the sense that it’s super expressive, very free, individual, unique, and very personal. So, when you understand yourself better and build up confidence, it shows in your skiing.
I try to be authentic on my Instagram page and show all the different sides of my personality and identity. When people say, “Eileen, we don’t care if you model. Post more ski stuff!” then I want to shut down that single-minded mentality, because I, myself, was stuck in it for so long. I want young girls to see that you can be athletic and you can love fashion and you can love to eat. You can be strong and healthy and beautiful, and you can be powered and outspoken and athletic.
STRIKING THE RIGHT BALANCE
WHAT DOES BEING THE NEXT BIG PILOT MEAN TO YOU?
I think that being the next big pilot is a really inspiring title for young people because it is encouraging adolescents to take control of their identity, their passion, their impact on the world. It is telling us that we don’t have to wait until we have certain qualifications or we’re a certain age, or we have met some arbitrary benchmark. But rather we can make global impact and create change in the communities around us and in the greater world from any age and starting point.
HOW DOES IWC FIT TOGETHER WITH YOUR LIFESTYLE AND ATTITUDE?
IWC has a very classy, understated luxury vibe. I really like that because it fits perfectly into functional fashion. As someone who is in the fashion industry, I pay attention to what I’m wearing or what accessories I put on my body. But at the same time, I’m an athlete and I need to be able to do double-corks and rely on my watch. So, I think that it really strikes a unique balance in that it’s understated, really classy and elegant, and not at all flashy.
I was hiking instead of taking the lift because it gave me that many more laps; it meant doing twice as many hours on the air bag; it meant using rollerblading training when I couldn’t get on snow; and it meant endless visualising. It was hard, but it strengthened my work ethics
ABOUT HIKING, RITUALS AND PHYSICS
TELL US ABOUT YOUR TOUGHEST CHALLENGE IN YOUR SPORTS CAREER.
I was a full-time student until last year. So, I was skiing for about half the days than everybody else I was competing with. That meant that I had to put in hours of work: I was hiking instead of taking the lift because it gave me that many more laps; it meant doing twice as many hours on the air bag; it meant using rollerblading training when I couldn’t get on snow; and it meant endless visualising. It was hard, but it strengthened my work ethics. Even though I am now skiing full-time, I still feel that drive and feeling that I don’t have enough time. It pushes my training, and I think that’s a good thing.
YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED MORE THAN OTHER PEOPLE HAVE IN A LIFETIME. WHAT’S NEXT?
It’s always changing. I am currently writing a book. I just wrote an op-Ed for the New York Times, so I’m starting to get published more and I want to expand more into writing and journalism. But at the same time, I’m really into particle physics right now. Every day after skiing I’m taking a bath – it’s sort of my ritual. And in my bath, I would just lay there and watch YouTube videos while learning about string theory. It’s just so cool to think about. I learned about diffeomorphism invariants yesterday, so… (laughs). I’m all over the place.
— Eileen Gu winning gold at Big Air World Cup in Steamboat, CO (photo by Getty Images)