Teenage skiing prodigy credits ‘nine years of piano playing’ for Gold medal at Winter Olympics

17 February 2022, 12:37 | Updated: 17 February 2022, 15:56

Eileen Gu wins Gold at the Winter Olympics
Eileen Gu wins Gold at the Winter Olympics. Picture: Youtube / Getty

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

China’s star freestyle skier, Ailing (Eileen) Gu, plays piano during her downtime at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

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Eileen Feng Gu, also known by her Chinese name, Gu Ailing, became the youngest gold medalist in freestyle skiing, winning the big air event at the start of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

The category of big air freestyle skiing debuted at the Beijing Olympics, and is a high-risk injury sport which involves competitors skiing down a hill and performing aerial tricks after launching off very large jumps.

Gu has already picked up a Gold and Silver medal at this year’s Winter Olympic Games, and will be looking to claim her third medal in her closing race on Thursday 18th February, the freeski halfpipe final.

The talented Chinese-American skier credited her first win in the snow sport to her other passion performance passion, playing the piano.

In the big air final, Gu performed a double cork 1620; a move in which skiers spin 4½ times while rotating twice off-axis while 20-some feet in the air.

“I’ve never done it before, but I actually felt pretty confident going into it,” Gu revealed in the post-final press conference. “I’ve played piano for nine years, so I am very attuned to a sense of rhythm.”

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Freestyle skiing: China's Eileen Gu wins big air gold | Winter Olympics

Gu continued, “I think of all my tricks as a rhythm, and music. The wind in my ears, the speed in my turn as I spin, it speeds up.

“There’s a change in tempo. I was visualising that.”

At this stage of the competition, Gu had enough points to guarantee herself a podium spot, so decided to risk attempting the 1620 jump, that she’d never landed before, as her final trick.

“More than anything I felt it was an opportunity to represent myself, and this message that I’ve always had to break my own boundaries. It’s something that I wanted to show the world.

“I was thinking, ‘Should I improve on my previous [jump] and go for the sliver or should I whip out this random trick I’d never done before and go for gold?’”. Gu’s decision obviously paid off as she is now the youngest freestyle skiing gold medalist.

Gu added that she hopes her move inspires other young sportspeople, and said, “If I can do it, they can do it.”

Read more: Why Tchaikovsky is being played instead of the Russian national anthem

Eileen Gu Piano at the Airport

Gu started playing the piano when she was nine years old, and her mother has posted multiple videos over the last seven years of the prodigious skier playing classical piano music on her personal YouTube channel.

Her mother, Yan Gu, is a first-generation immigrant from China, and raised Gu as a single-mother in America. Gu will be attending Stanford University, her mother’s Alma Mater, as an undergraduate after she finishes at the Olympic Games.

As a child, Gu went to skiing, soccer, ballet, and piano lessons, and it is clear that playing the piano is still an important part of her life.

When Gu isn’t on the slopes at the Olympics, her downtime is spent playing the piano and composing music. Gu told journalists at the Games that “I play piano loads. I even have a keyboard right here with me.”

“It’s [really] small however I [keep] it in my room so I [can] play it and compose stuff [in the] evening.”

Eileen Gu Ski - Beethoven

Gu is an advocate for women in sports and prior to her Olympic Games appearance, she posted on Instagram: “I’ve always said my goal is to globally spread the sport I love to kids, especially girls, and to shift sport culture toward one motivated by passion.

“Going into my first Olympics, my goal is to simply do my best, enjoy the process, and continue to inspire others and be inspired by this sport and everyone in it.”

Gu has certainly done that, and maybe even as well as sport, she will encourage a new generation of multi-talented sports stars and musicians.