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US-born and raised ski star Eileen Gu faces backlash after taking home Olympic gold for China, fires back at critics with a biting response

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MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP via Getty Images

An American ski star who was born and raised in California and plans to attend Stanford University in the fall just won gold while competing for China at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing — and the news is generating mixed reactions on social media.

What are the details?

Eileen Gu, 18, first made headlines in 2019 when she announced that she would be competing in the Olympics under the flag of her mother's home country, China. Gu was raised all of her life in California by an American father and a Chinese mother.

But now, with newfound international fame and an Olympic gold medal under her belt for the women's freeski big air event, her controversial decision to compete for China has drawn more intense scrutiny.

While many commenters on social media celebrated Gu's victory on Tuesday, others justifiably questioned why the up-and-coming celebrity would use her talents to serve a communist country known for authoritarian rule and long suspected of committing human rights atrocities.

Notably, former Missouri lawmaker Claire McCaskill said, "I don't get it. And never will. I think it is wrong for an American to compete for China."

"China represses free speech," she added, and "is well known for their human rights violations," including the country's forced labor tactics against the Muslim Uyghur population in the northwest region of China.

McCaskill went on to ask a question that many have asked Gu since the start of the Olympics: "Did she abandon her U.S. citizenship or not?"

It remains unclear whether Gu has renounced her U.S. citizenship, a move that is normally required for Chinese naturalization since the country does not allow dual citizenship. The skier was asked about the matter by reporters on numerous occasions during her post-gold medal press conference, but each time she refused to answer, saying only that she felt American in the U.S. and Chinese in China, according to CNN.

What else?

Other critics have suggested that Gu only decided to compete for China as a publicity maneuver, knowing her success would earn her unique fame and fortune in China.

That perception has been bolstered by the immense praise of her so far by Chinese fans and government authorities.

Following her gold medal run on Tuesday, the topic dominated searches on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, as more than 90,000 comments were posted in less than 30 minutes about her win. The social media platform temporarily crashed due to the traffic.

CNN also noted that Chinese authorities were "unusually" quick to congratulate Gu.

ESPN reported that Gu's decision was a "lucrative one" for her on-the-side modeling career, adding that "her face is on advertisements across Beijing, and she has been photographed for Vogue, Victoria's Secret, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, and more."

China's support for Gu stands in stark contrast to the anger and vitriol that has come to her fellow American-born Olympian, figure skater Zhu Yi, who is competing in Beijing for China but has not had success.

What is she saying?

In response to the criticism, Gu reportedly shot back, saying, "If people don't like me, then that's their loss. They're never going to win the Olympics."

Her dismissive remark mirrored a comment she made on her TikTok last month after a critic asked, "Why China tho... you grew up in San Francisco?" The user posted a money bag emoji along with the comment, suggesting she had financial motives.

"Cry ab it [cry about it]," she responded.

In her 2019 announcement on Instagram, Gu said she decided to ski for China to inspire young Chinese women.

"This was an incredibly tough decision for me to make," she said. "I am extremely thankful for U.S. Ski & Snowboard and the Chinese Ski Association for having the vision and belief in me to make my dreams come true. I am proud of my heritage, and equally proud of my American upbringings."

"The opportunity to help inspire millions of young people where my mom was born, during the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help to promote the sport I love," she continued. "Through skiing, I hope to unite people, promote common understanding, create communication, and forge friendships between nations. If I can help to inspire one young girl to break a boundary, my wishes will have come true."

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