Oscar Holland, CNN Interview by Coy Wire, CNN
If Eileen Gu’s account of last Saturday’s Freestyle Ski World Cup event in Calgary is anything to go by, a day in the life of the Olympian is as varied as it is busy: She took first place in the morning qualifiers , wrote two essays, read some René Descartes and George Berkeley for a philosophy class, and then “did some physics” before getting back on track for the final.
“I won that, I came back,” she continued, casually reviewing her first competition appearance since last year’s Winter Olympics, “I went over my essay…turned it in, canceled at 10pm and went to sleep. So that was one of those days.”
At this time last year, the American-born Gu was less than two weeks away from making her Olympic debut in Beijing, representing China, the country of her mother’s birth. As one of the most sponsored athletes at the Games, she was already a recognizable face. But few outside of the ski world had seen it in action. Any suggestion that her abilities had been exaggerated was soon dispelled as she took home three medals, including gold medals in halfpipe and big air competitions.
Within 12 months, Gu enrolled as a student at Stanford University and was named among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. She has also bolstered her reputation as a highly sought after model. In May, she made her runway debut for Louis Vuitton, wearing a midriff-baring outfit from the brand’s Cruise 2023 collection, and has graced the covers of Vogue Hong Kong and the Singapore edition of Harper’s Bazaar in recent months.
“People always think that fashion and skiing are these two completely disparate entities … when in reality, the core aspects are very similar,” he said, speaking to CNN correspondent and sportscaster Coy Wire before the Winter X Games this weekend in Aspen. Colorado.
“Both are rooted in a sense of self-expression and creativity. Both require a lot of confidence, being able to perform under pressure and being able to be yourself unapologetically. And I think those qualities really come across.”
Sport, school and fashion not only overlap but contribute to each other, Gu said, describing the juggling act as a matter of symbiosis, not compromise. What he learns in psychology is applied to skiing, which in turn sparks creativity that leads to fashion; Meanwhile, modeling offers lessons in resilience and confidence that are then applied to her college work, “so it all goes in a circle,” she said.
Diving down a half pipe may have little in common with walking down a track, but “everything is connected,” said the 19-year-old. Drawn to action sports by the feeling that she is “constantly pushing” her own limits, Gu said that skiing makes her feel “like she is capable of anything.”
“Because if I can push my body to do a double cork, who says I can’t add another 180 (degree rotation)? Or if you want to switch it to another area of my life, who says I can’t score better on the next test or shoot my dream magazine?
“Beauty is power,” she added later. “And beauty is being able to be strong, not just in how your body looks, but also in what your body can do.”
Style ‘characterized by balance’
The California-raised athlete, whose decision to represent China drew criticism from some quarters in the US, has always been interested in fashion. Having “stole little pieces” from her mother’s wardrobe when she was a child, Ella Gu she attended her first fashion week in Paris at age 15. The experience was, she said, “absolutely life changing.”
“Just seeing the way art can really be put on the body and how expressive it can be in a show. (It’s about) not just the people wearing the clothes and how they look… but also the atmosphere, the music, the setting, there’s a lot involved.”
He describes his personal style, like many other things in his life, as “characterized by balance”: “between masculine and feminine, between elegant and sporty, between playful and mature.
“Those are all really different facets of my life, and depending on the day, I find fashion to be a great way to express how I feel… I look different every day, even in just a few hours. But that’s what’s fun about it.”
Gu signed with IMG Models, the agency behind Kate Moss, Bella Hadid and more of the biggest names in fashion. She has worked with Victoria’s Secret, Tiffany & Co., Swiss watchmaker IWC, and cosmetics giant Estée Lauder (as well as a variety of brands in China, including coffee shop chain Luckin Coffee, telecommunications company China Mobile, and Mengniu Inner Mongolia Dairy).
These deals helped establish Gu as the world’s third-highest-paid female athlete last year, according to Forbes, which estimated her 2022 earnings at more than $20 million. She also hopes that her visibility can make her a role model for young girls and aspiring athletes, the kind she said she lacked when she was young.
“For me, growing up, there weren’t that many girls in the ski industry,” she said, adding: “I’m young and I’m trying to do the best I can, and I just want to be the person that a girl at home can see. on TV or on her phone and say, ‘Hey, you know, if she can do that, then I want to try that too. She looks like she is having fun. When can I try?’”
The CNN Wire
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