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Eileen Gu Risks China Fan Base With US Olympic Envoy Role

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(Bloomberg) -- Skier Eileen Gu’s decision to join the US bid to host a Winter Olympics sparked fierce debate in China over the American-born athlete’s split loyalties between the world’s two largest economies.

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Gu’s announcement at the TIME100 Summit in New York that she’d become an ambassador for the US effort to hold the event in Salt Lake City in 2030 or 2034 was the second-most-read topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo on Wednesday morning. A hashtag of the freeskier’s comments that she didn’t regret representing China at the Winter Olympics racked up some 26 million reads.

Her decision to endorse a US Olympic bid was seen as a betrayal by some, coming so soon after Gu won gold for China. “Is she Chinese or American?” one user wrote, while another sniped that she’d “pretended” to be Chinese to make millions in endorsements, referring to the 18-year-old’s deals with companies including JD.com Inc. and Luckin Coffee Inc.

Others were more supportive. “My friend Gu Ailing is really wonderful and makes me proud,” wrote one user, referring to the athlete by her Chinese name.

Gu shot to stardom in China by winning two gold medals and a silver at this year’s Beijing Winter Olympics, helping the nation land a record nine golds. Her success was a soft power coup for Beijing, prompting President Xi Jinping to mention her by name at an awards ceremony in April.

More nationalist voices in China were critical of Gu during the Winter Games, with former editor of the Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper Hu Xijin warning she shouldn’t be seen as a patriot because it wasn’t clear what nationality she would hold in future.

China doesn’t allow dual nationality and Gu has skirted questions about whether she gave up her US citizenship when she decided in 2019 to compete for China. She’s frequently pledged support to both China and the US, and cited creating a “shared future” of globalism as one of her main goals of competing for the Asian nation.

Yet, Hu sounded a more supportive note in a social media post later Wednesday, acknowledging political tensions between Beijing and Washington had made it hard for Gu. He urged the Chinese public to be more tolerant than her critics in the US, where she’s rankled some by competing for China despite the nation’s alleged human rights abuses.

“We might as well encourage her to become a cultural communicator between China and the US, and let her pull the two societies closer, instead of making her a symbol of China-US confrontation,” he wrote.

(Updates with Hu Xijin comments in final paragraph.)

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