fb-pixel Skip to main content
OLYMPICS NOTEBOOK

American-born Eileen Gu comes through in clutch, wins big air gold for China

Eileen Gu, a San Franciscan born to an American father and Chinese mother, won what could be the first of multiple gold medals on Tuesday.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

American-born Eileen Gu of China cranked out the first 1620 of her career on her final jump, stunning Tess Ledeux of France and earning the first of what she hopes will be three gold medals at the Beijing Olympics in women’s freestyle big air Tuesday.

Nicknamed the “Snow Princess,” Gu is among the biggest local names in Beijing. She is a medal favorite in big air, slopestyle and halfpipe. Her first attempt at gold came down to the last round.

Ledeux is the only other woman to ever land a 1620 — 4½ spins — in competition, and she stomped one out with a slight wobble on the landing in Round 1.

Advertisement



Gu hinted after qualifying Monday that she might be able to match Ledeux. With everything on the line, she did. The 18-year-old from San Francisco shrieked when she landed the jump, then dropped to her knees when her score of 94.50 was announced.

Ledeux tried to improve on her second run in Round 3, coming into the jump backward for a switch 1440. She was shaky on the landing, though, clearing the way for Gu’s gold.

Gu has gotten heat from her birth country after turning down Team USA to compete for China at the Beijing Games. Gu’s mother is from China, and though she learned to ski in California, she says her goal is to be a role model for young girls in China who have not had many female athletes to admire.

It’s been a lucrative move for her, as well. Her face is on advertisements across Beijing, and her modeling career is nearly as hot as her skiing talents, with appearances for Vogue, Victoria’s Secret, Louis Vitton, Tiffany and more.

Swiss skier Mathilde Gremaud took bronze.

The event was held at Big Air Shougang, the world’s first permanent, city-based big air facility. It’s a repurposed steel mill on the west side of Beijing that’s made a stunning backdrop for one of the Games’ newest sports. Freeskiing is taking on big air for the first time as a Winter Games discipline, while the snowboarders will be here next week after debuting the event in PyeongChang four years ago.

Advertisement



The 200-foot big air structure was built on the site of the former Shougang Group steel mill, China’s first state-owned plant that helped the country become a world leader in steel production. Its billowing smokestacks provided work for thousands but also darkened the sky over Beijing’s Shijingshan District, contributing to the city’s air pollution problem.

China closed the factory in conjunction with the 2008 Summer Games. The sprawling campus has been converted into a bizarre, yet beautiful, city oasis.

Rusting factories and machinery remain, but the space between has been filled by grassy lawns, glassy ponds, and a good deal of greenery. One of the blast furnaces was given a face-lift and turned into a steampunk-style event space with shops, commercial offices, and a museum. The yards host dance showcases in the summer, and architects plan to transform one of the massive cooling towers hovering over the big air jump into a wedding venue.

Among those in attendance for Gu’s victory: Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who sat with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach a day after delivering a controlled interview in Beijing that touched on sexual assault allegations she made against a former high-ranking member of China’s ruling Communist Party.

Advertisement



Bach said he and Peng spoke with athletes at the Big Air Shougang venue for about 30 minutes, and the pair was seen together in the stands. He added Peng told him that she was going into quarantine later Tuesday and planned to exit the closed Olympic coronavirus bubble.

Ireen Wüst goes gold in record fifth Games

Ireen Wüst can’t really explain it.

“I just see the rings and something magical happens,” Wüst said.

Wüst, at the age of 35, glided into the record books with a victory in the 1,500 meters at the Beijing Games, the Dutch speedskating star becoming the first athlete — woman or man, winter or summer — to claim individual gold medals at five different Olympics. (British rower Steve Redgrave won gold medals over five Olympics, but as part of two- or four-man teams.)

Wüst already was the most decorated speedskater in history. She pushed her medal haul to an even dozen, a collection she started gathering in her debut at the 2006 Turin Games, with six golds distributed over each of the Olympics she has competed in.

“She had the perfect race at the best moment,” said fellow Dutch skater Antoinette de Jong, who settled for the bronze behind the winner and Japan’s Miho Takagi.

Wüst set an Olympic record while defending her title in the 1,500, crossing the line with a time of 1 minute, 53.28 seconds at the Ice Ribbon oval. Amazingly, Wüst has medaled in the 1,500 — a race that requires the speed of a sprinter and the staying power of an endurance skater — at all five of her Olympics.

Advertisement



She’s won the gold three times, to go along with a silver and a bronze. Her other individual golds are in the 3,000 at the Turin and Sochi Games.

“This is it,” she said, reiterating plans to retire after the Beijing Games. “I will leave on top.”

The mighty Dutch team won its second gold in three speedskating events, setting itself up for another big performance after dominating the last two Winter Games at the oval.

Irish doctor makes Olympic history in luge

Elsa Desmond knows she’s not going to medal at the Beijing Olympics. She wasn’t even expecting to be in the top half of the field. Doesn’t matter.

The first women’s luge Olympian from Ireland feels like she’s already prevailed.

Desmond competed on Monday in the opening night in the women’s luge event, returns to finish the race on Tuesday, then flies out Friday and plans to return to work in Ireland on Saturday — as a doctor, who delayed parts of her internship to chase down a spot in the Olympics.

“As the founder of the modern Olympics said, ‘It’s not about who wins, it’s about the fight to get there,’ ” Desmond said. “And this has been my fight. I’ve given everything to get here. And I think everyone has their own story, everyone has their own journey, everyone makes sacrifices in different ways and has different battles.”

Advertisement



Although she won’t triumph in Beijing, she’s already obviously prevailed in some fights. Ireland didn’t even have a luge federation before she, a doctor in general surgery at Ireland’s Southend University Hospital, started one herself.

By night’s end, out of the 34 sliders still in the competition, she was 34th. She was, however, officially a luge Olympian despite needing to juggle two very demanding jobs, sliding a few months a year while starting a life in medicine.

“I have another job, I have to self-fund, I have all these really visible challenges,” Desmond said. “But other people have challenges that we can’t see. So, I think mine, yes, is a very obvious challenge. But I think everyone’s worked as hard as they can to be here.”

Coronation, breakthrough in men’s downhill

Beat Feuz of Switzerland captured gold in the men’s downhill, beating 41-year-old Frenchman Johan Clarey by one-tenth of a second. Two-time Olympic champion Matthias Mayer of Austria was 0.16 behind for bronze. The victory gave Feuz the one thing lacking from a career filled with accomplishments. He won a silver medal in super-G and bronze in downhill at the 2018 Olympics and is the four-time reigning World Cup downhill champion. Clarey, meanwhile, became the oldest man to win an Olympic medal in Alpine skiing, unseating Bode Miller, who was 36 when he took the bronze in super-G in 2014. Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway, a popular pick to win because he leads the World Cup downhill standings and was fastest in Friday’s training session, finished fifth . . . Canadian snowboarder Max Parrot took home the gold in men’s slopestyle just over three years after discovering a cancerous lump in his neck. Technically superior on his second of three runs, Parrot scored a 90.96 to hold off the field. Diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma 10 months after winning the silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, he underwent 12 chemotherapy treatments during the span of six months. Su Yiming of China earned the silver and Mark McMorris of Canada used a strong final run to bump himself into a third straight bronze, knocking defending champion Red Gerard of the United States off the podium. “There’s nothing you can really complain about and I don’t want to be a judge or anything,” Gerard said. “There were a lot of landed runs out there, and it’s hard. But yeah, I would’ve liked to have been up there for sure” . . . The US ski team says Nina O’Brien sustained a compound fracture of her left tibia and fibula after falling toward the end of the women’s giant slalom Monday. The race had to be delayed for about 15 minutes when O’Brien slid across the finish line at the end of her second run. She was screaming in pain after stumbling through the last gate as her skis crossed in front of her. The 24-year-old will return to the US for further evaluation and care; she had been sixth fastest after the opening run . . . Finnish men’s goaltender Jussi Olkinuora has joined forward Marko Anttila in isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus in Beijing, with the men’s hockey team scheduled to begin play Thursday. A spokesman for the Finnish Olympic Committee said both recovered from COVID-19 last month and tested negative to travel to Beijing. Neither have reported any symptoms . . . Ren Ziwei of China survived a controversial finish to win the men’s 1,000 meters in short track speedskating. Liu Shaolin Sandor of Hungary crossed the line first, but was penalized twice and earned a yellow card. That elevated Ren, who crossed second, to the gold medal. Liu appeared to bump Ren in taking the lead late in the race. Ren then grabbed Liu approaching the finish line; Liu still managed to cross first before going down, but the referee assessed the penalties to him. Li Wenlong of China earned silver. Liu Shaoang of Hungary, the brother of Liu, took bronze . . . Amos Mosaner and Stefania Constantini clinched Italy’s first-ever Olympic curling medal with one of the most dominating performances in Winter Games history — an 8-1, seven-end victory over Sweden in the semifinals to improve their record in Beijing to 10-0. Italy will play Norway, which beat Britain, 6-5, on a last-rock draw to the button, in the gold-medal match on Tuesday . . . Italian Arianna Fontana burnished her legacy as short track’s most decorated skater, taking the lead from Dutch world champion Suzanne Schulting late in the women’s 500 meters and letting out a yell as she crossed the line to earn her 10th career medal. Her gold, along with a silver in the inaugural mixed team relay on Sunday, put her ahead of Viktor An and Apolo Ohno for career medals . . . Denise Herrmann of Germany missed only one of 20 shots and skied fast to win the women’s 15-kilometer individual biathlon in 44 minutes, 12.7 seconds. Anais Chevalier-Bouchet of France missed her very last shot, which proved to be a costly mistake, and won silver 9.4 seconds behind Herrmann. Norway’s Marte Olsbu Roeiseland, the overall World Cup leader, missed two shots and settled for bronze . . . Slovenia won gold in the ski jumping mixed team event’s debut, dominating the competition. Russia won silver and Canada, in a surprise, earned bronze. Germany, one of the favorites to win, was disqualified after the first round because of an equipment violation.