New star Eileen Gu wins second gold, third medal in historic X Games Aspen debut

Eileen Gu celebrates after winning gold in ski slopestyle, her third medal in her X Games Aspen debut, on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Pure adrenaline got Eileen Gu through her first X Games. Great skiing got her onto the podium of all three contests she competed in. And immense talent — in just about everything, it seems — will vault her into superstardom, if it hasn’t already.

The 17-year-old freeskier from San Francisco had one of the most impressive debuts in Winter X Games history this week, coming away with two gold medals and another bronze in three events, a feat accomplished by no rookie in the event’s 25-year history.

“This is something I wouldn’t even dare to dream of. I came into this contest with a goal of getting one podium, and I thought that was ambitious,” Gu said after Saturday’s slopestyle win. “It’s really just the adrenaline of my first X Games and being so hyped to be here that it was able to get me through. I probably am going to go hibernate for 24 hours straight now and not talk to anybody because I’m exhausted now. But I couldn’t be happier.”

Gu’s first X Games competition was Friday’s women’s ski big air, where she won bronze behind silver medalist Megan Oldham and gold medalist Mathilde Gremaud. Then, later Friday night, she shocked the freeskiing world by winning the women’s ski superpipe contest over Olympic gold medalist Cassie Sharpe, a feat made a little easier after defending champion Kelly Sildaru pulled out because of injury.

Eileen Gu goes big during women's ski slopestyle competition on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, at X Games Aspen. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

But, if this wasn’t enough, Gu found the stamina for one more podium performance, winning Saturday’s women’s ski slopestyle contest at Buttermilk Ski Area. That’s three medals in three events in roughly 24 hours for the teenager.

“How do you process it? Not that I’m undervaluing it, but I trust the process and what we did and knew she would do well as long as we could keep it together,” said Gu’s coach, New Zealand’s Brad Prosser, of her three-medal X Games debut. “It’s unbelievable and I’m a little speechless on top of the fact that I’m just super proud to watch her perform and do well.”

Eileen Gu hits a jump on the slopestyle course at X Games Aspen at Buttermilk on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Gu’s rapid rise could be seen coming, whether it was in skiing or elsewhere. She’s already an established model, was featured as part of Forbes’ China 30 Under 30 entertainment and sports list, and is scheduled to start studying at Stanford University in the fall 2022 after crushing her SAT. She mentioned molecular genetics as a possible area of study, although did state her dream job is to become a “food connoisseur.”

She’s also a talented pianist — she especially wanted to rent a home here in Aspen that had a piano for X Games — and was a strong cross-country runner growing up.

Speaking of China, her mother is Chinese and Gu represents her mother’s homeland in international competition. It’s all but guaranteed she’ll represent China when Beijing hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics a year from now.

“Just absolutely insane. I’m definitely really tired. I’ve been taking naps in between every event. Just 45-minute power naps — I found those help me a lot,” Gu said of making it through her Aspen debut. “I go into every contest with the intention of winning, but not the expectation, of course. I look up to every single girl in the field, especially since it’s my first X Games.”

Gu didn’t have much competition in Saturday’s slopestyle final, in more ways than one. To start, only five athletes competed, as others had to pull out due to injury, including Sildaru. The 18-year-old Estonian has been freeskiing’s “it girl” in recent years, as she already has nine X Games medals, including both Aspen slopestyle and superpipe gold in 2020.

Eileen Gu shows off her three X Games Aspen 2021 medals, two gold and one bronze, at the base of the slopestyle course at Buttermilk on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

However, injury led to her only being able to watch Saturday as Gu took X Games by storm. Gu led wire-to-wire in the slopestyle final, where Isabel Atkin won silver despite being injured during the competition and being taken away by sled. Oldham won bronze, while Sarah Hoefflin and Gremaud finished off the podium.

“It’s one of those moments that you sort of sit back and go, ‘Wow, did that really just happen?’ But honestly, the last 24 hours was almost the easiest in some ways,” Prosser said. “The grueling grind of the three practices during each day was rough. A lot of emotions. A lot of hard, hard work and long hours. But she pulled through and she performed just like I know she could. What a weapon. What an amazing human.”


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