China Recruits US-Born Athletes to Boost Beijing’s Olympic Gold Medal Drive

Bay Area-born freestyle skier Eileen Gu crashed the Chinese internet after winning gold for China on her debut at the Beijing Winter Olympics, the first of three she hopes to claim on behalf of her mother’s home country. “The future is bright” for Gu and her teammates, read a Feb. 8 letter from China’s Winter Sports Administrative Center, congratulating them for claiming China’s first gold on snow. “Score greater glory for the Party and the people,” the letter urged the team. On China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo, the outpouring of adulation from Chinese fans for the 18-year-old champion temporarily overloaded the site. “Dad with Harvard, mom with Peking University and Stanford, grandmother an athlete, she herself beautiful and stylish,” said one post that got shared 115,000 times. The reception to Gu sharply contrasts with the intense scrutiny felt by Zhu Yi, the figure skater who gave up her American citizenship and changed her name from Beverly to Yi after deciding to compete for China in 2018. Zhu Yi, of China, competes in the women’s short program team figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, in Beijing, on Feb. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) Only one year older than Gu and also born in California, Zhu was mocked on Chinese social media for crying after falling in her performance two days in a row, knocking the Chinese team from third place to fifth in the team event. “Stop crying, I want to cry too,” wrote a Chinese Weibo user, with some others deriding her spoken Chinese and telling her to “go back to America.” Gu and Zhu are among dozens of athletes born and raised in North America that Beijing has enlisted to bolster its Olympic success across the field, especially in sports it has not historically been strong in. But the reception the pair has received shows that the Chinese public could be unforgiving if an adopted athlete’s performance fails to live up to expectations. The recruitment drive was perhaps most notable in the ice hockey team, where 28 out of 48 men and women players are foreign-born with six having no Chinese heritage at all. All of them are playing under Chinese names, including American-Chinese defenseman Jake Chelios, son of Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios and who’s spent his last three seasons with Kunlun Red Star, a China-owned team in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. In China, he will be known as Jieke Kailiaosi (the Chinese transliteration of his name). “My new name? I love it. It’s cool. It’s part of the experience. Since I’ve been over here, everything’s kind of new for me, and that’s the exciting part about playing overseas,” Chelios said during Saturday’s practice. He acknowledged that his Chinese vocabulary consists of only “two or three words.” “I took six years of Spanish in high school. I couldn’t even learn that, so I didn’t even try,” he said. China goalkeeper Zhou Jiaying puts on her helmet during a preliminary round women’s hockey game against Denmark at the 2022 Winter Olympics, in Beijing, on Feb. 4, 2022. (Petr David Josek/AP Photo) An awkward moment came when Vancouver-born goaltender Kimberly Newell, playing as Zhou Jiaying, said she was “not allowed to speak English” during the media appearance on Sunday and let her aide do the talking. Zhou, whose mother was born in China, is fluent in English, Mandarin, and French, her Olympic bio shows. The aide had to turn to Zhou several times during the translation. ‘Living My Best Life’ Gu, currently China’s biggest Olympic star, was also mindful about what she revealed to the public. At a press conference after her win on Tuesday, Gu dodged questions half a dozen times about whether she is still a U.S. citizen—given that China does not allow dual citizenships. “I definitely feel as though I am just as American as I am Chinese. I am American when I am in the U.S., and I am Chinese when I am in China,” said Gu when pressed twice by a reporter. She stressed that she was using sports as “a force for unity” and not a “divisive force,” a line that echoes narratives used by Beijing to brush off outside criticism. Ailing Eileen Gu of Team China performs a trick ahead of the Women’s Freestyle Skiing Freeski Big Air Final on Day 4 of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Big Air Shougang in Beijing, China, on Feb. 08, 2022. (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images) “Here’s the thing, I am not trying to keep anyone happy. I am an 18-year-old girl out here living my best life. Like, I’m having a great time,” she said. Gu added that that she has a “good heart” and is making decisions “for the greater good.” “I’m not going to waste my time trying to placate people who are one, uneducated, and two, probably are never going to experience the kind of joy and gratitude and just love that I have the great fortune to experience on a daily basis,” she said. “If people don’t believe me and if people don’t like me, then that’s their loss, they are never going to win the Olympics.” The mod

China Recruits US-Born Athletes to Boost Beijing’s Olympic Gold Medal Drive

Bay Area-born freestyle skier Eileen Gu crashed the Chinese internet after winning gold for China on her debut at the Beijing Winter Olympics, the first of three she hopes to claim on behalf of her mother’s home country.

“The future is bright” for Gu and her teammates, read a Feb. 8 letter from China’s Winter Sports Administrative Center, congratulating them for claiming China’s first gold on snow. “Score greater glory for the Party and the people,” the letter urged the team.

On China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo, the outpouring of adulation from Chinese fans for the 18-year-old champion temporarily overloaded the site.

“Dad with Harvard, mom with Peking University and Stanford, grandmother an athlete, she herself beautiful and stylish,” said one post that got shared 115,000 times.

The reception to Gu sharply contrasts with the intense scrutiny felt by Zhu Yi, the figure skater who gave up her American citizenship and changed her name from Beverly to Yi after deciding to compete for China in 2018.

Zhu Yi
Zhu Yi, of China, competes in the women’s short program team figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, in Beijing, on Feb. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Only one year older than Gu and also born in California, Zhu was mocked on Chinese social media for crying after falling in her performance two days in a row, knocking the Chinese team from third place to fifth in the team event.

“Stop crying, I want to cry too,” wrote a Chinese Weibo user, with some others deriding her spoken Chinese and telling her to “go back to America.”

Gu and Zhu are among dozens of athletes born and raised in North America that Beijing has enlisted to bolster its Olympic success across the field, especially in sports it has not historically been strong in. But the reception the pair has received shows that the Chinese public could be unforgiving if an adopted athlete’s performance fails to live up to expectations.

The recruitment drive was perhaps most notable in the ice hockey team, where 28 out of 48 men and women players are foreign-born with six having no Chinese heritage at all.

All of them are playing under Chinese names, including American-Chinese defenseman Jake Chelios, son of Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios and who’s spent his last three seasons with Kunlun Red Star, a China-owned team in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. In China, he will be known as Jieke Kailiaosi (the Chinese transliteration of his name).

“My new name? I love it. It’s cool. It’s part of the experience. Since I’ve been over here, everything’s kind of new for me, and that’s the exciting part about playing overseas,” Chelios said during Saturday’s practice.

He acknowledged that his Chinese vocabulary consists of only “two or three words.”

“I took six years of Spanish in high school. I couldn’t even learn that, so I didn’t even try,” he said.

Beijing Olympics Ice Hockey
China goalkeeper Zhou Jiaying puts on her helmet during a preliminary round women’s hockey game against Denmark at the 2022 Winter Olympics, in Beijing, on Feb. 4, 2022. (Petr David Josek/AP Photo)

An awkward moment came when Vancouver-born goaltender Kimberly Newell, playing as Zhou Jiaying, said she was “not allowed to speak English” during the media appearance on Sunday and let her aide do the talking. Zhou, whose mother was born in China, is fluent in English, Mandarin, and French, her Olympic bio shows.

The aide had to turn to Zhou several times during the translation.

‘Living My Best Life’

Gu, currently China’s biggest Olympic star, was also mindful about what she revealed to the public.

At a press conference after her win on Tuesday, Gu dodged questions half a dozen times about whether she is still a U.S. citizen—given that China does not allow dual citizenships.

“I definitely feel as though I am just as American as I am Chinese. I am American when I am in the U.S., and I am Chinese when I am in China,” said Gu when pressed twice by a reporter. She stressed that she was using sports as “a force for unity” and not a “divisive force,” a line that echoes narratives used by Beijing to brush off outside criticism.

Freestyle Skiing - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 4
Ailing Eileen Gu of Team China performs a trick ahead of the Women’s Freestyle Skiing Freeski Big Air Final on Day 4 of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Big Air Shougang in Beijing, China, on Feb. 08, 2022. (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

“Here’s the thing, I am not trying to keep anyone happy. I am an 18-year-old girl out here living my best life. Like, I’m having a great time,” she said. Gu added that that she has a “good heart” and is making decisions “for the greater good.”

“I’m not going to waste my time trying to placate people who are one, uneducated, and two, probably are never going to experience the kind of joy and gratitude and just love that I have the great fortune to experience on a daily basis,” she said.

“If people don’t believe me and if people don’t like me, then that’s their loss, they are never going to win the Olympics.”

The moderator interjected when the reporter tried to probe again, saying: “Next question, please.”

Tennis player Peng Shuai was among the audience watching Gu on Tuesday. Peng, whose wellbeing stirred international concern after she disappeared from the public eye for several weeks following a November social media post alleging that she was sexually assaulted by a senior Chinese official, wore a black knitted beanie with white Olympic rings and a black jacket with a Chinese flag. She clapped frequently, occasionally nodding and waving to the camera.

Freestyle Skiing - Women's Freeski Big Air - Final - Run 3
China’s Peng Shuai wearing a face mask watches the Women’s Freeski Big Air final in Beijing, China, on Feb. 8, 2022. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)

International bodies and officials have remained concerned for Peng’s security and wellbeing despite her reemergence, believing her appearances and statements to be tightly controlled by Chinese authorities. Peng earlier this week recanted her allegations in a supervised interview with the French newspaper L’Equipe inside the Olympic bubble, while also announcing her retirement from the sport.

Asked about Peng’s situation, Gu skirted around the question, replying that it was a “big honor” that she “would pay attention to smaller niche sports like freeskiing.”

Victory Ceremony - Freestyle Skiing - Women's Freeski Big Air
2022 Beijing Olympics – Victory Ceremony – Freestyle Skiing – Women’s Freeski Big Air – Beijing Medals Plaza, Beijing, China, on Feb. 8, 2022. Gold medallist Gu Ailing Eileen of China celebrates on the podium. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

“I am really grateful that she is … yeah, happy and healthy and out here and doing her thing again.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities have not hesitated to show their fondness of Gu.

On Tuesday, China’s anti-graft watchdog, not known normally to comment on sports, published an exclusive interview with Gu, where she shared about the dragon design on her ski suit. She wanted to “showcase Chinese elements to friends all around the world,” she said.

At the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony, she was “extremely excited” to wear the gown—featuring the red used in the Chinese Communist Party’s flag—for the Chinese sports delegation, Gu said, adding that she wanted to bring it home so that she could wear it in the future.


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Eva Fu is a New York-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on U.S.-China relations, religious freedom, and human rights. Contact Eva at [email protected]