The prodigy freestyle skier pulled off a jaw-dropping run in the final of the women’s freeski big air, stunning the French gold-medal favorite and overwhelming Chinese social media.
The event was making its Olympic debut, as was Gu.
The teenager is American-born but chose to compete for China, bringing with her the potential for three Gold medals. On Tuesday, she delivered on one.
A major star of the Beijing Games before they even began, Gu, 18, struggled in qualifying after losing a ski. But, with the country watching, she performed on the biggest stage.
“That was the best moment of my life,” she said after completing a trick she had never done before in practice or competition. “I just cannot believe what just happened.”
Gu managed to land a double cork 1620 — a move in which skiers spin 4 1/2 times while rotating twice off-axis while 20-some feet in the air.
Born and raised in San Francisco, Gu announced in 2019 that she would compete for her mother’s homeland, China. The decision saw her receive abuse from anglophones on social media, and has been criticized by conservative media in recent weeks amid geopolitical tensions between Beijing and Washington.
In China, however, her decision was met with joy and excitement.
The freestyle skier, who is also a model and student who plans to go to Stanford University, was immediately embraced and has since adorned billboards and graced the cover of Chinese Vogue.
She has even reportedly earned the nickname “Snow Princess.”
But if she was popular before, Gu’s spectacular win Tuesday sent that support into the stratosphere.
In Wangfujing, a famed 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.