ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Snow and wind pushed Sunday’s slopestyle qualifiers to another day, delaying the medal hopes of China’s favorite Olympic athlete, the 18-year-old freestyle skier Eileen Gu.
Gu, who grew up in California but competes for China, is a favorite in women’s slopestyle, an event in which competitors ski through a mountain course of rails and obstacles before navigating a series of three big jumps.
Delaying the women’s freeskiing slopestyle event by a day could affect Gu’s training for her third event, the halfpipe. She is one of the few athletes who compete in both slopestyle and halfpipe, and halfpipe qualifications are scheduled for Thursday.
In a rare burst of winter at these Winter Olympics, snow and wind smothered the mountain sites on Sunday, sending workers scurrying to get the courses ready for competition.
In a region that gets little snow, the outdoor Olympic sites — for sports like Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, the halfpipe and ski jumping — relied on large doses of artificial snow.
When real snow fell on Sunday, it created an unusual sight: snow removal. Workers on the slopestyle course used shovels and blowers to keep the snow from piling up on the obstacles and jumps. In many ways, organizers prefer artificial snow, because they can control it. When Mother Nature gets involved, all plans are off.
Gu already has one gold medal, in big air, earned in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion last Tuesday at an industrial park in western Beijing. Her win catapulted her to another level of fame and scrutiny. Afterward, she deftly answered questions from reporters for more than an hour while swiping away probing queries about her citizenship status.
The Olympics have a policy that athletes must be citizens of the country for which they compete, and China does not allow dual citizenship.
Gu, whose mother was born and raised in China and who maintains deep ties to Beijing, is a ubiquitous figure here. Her face graces advertisements of all sorts and her exploits receive constant attention on state-run news channels.
Slopestyle is an event that suits Gu, who showed technical prowess on the rails at a young age, working with the U.S. national team (she switched to China in 2019). She is a daring jumper, as her big air victory demonstrated.
In a smattering of international competitions over the past year, Gu has won or finished second in every slopestyle event. Her biggest threat here is likely to come from Kelly Sildaru of Estonia and Tess Ledeux of France. It was Ledeux who led the big air event until Gu’s final jump dropped her to silver.
Gu’s third and final event will be on Friday in the halfpipe, another event she has dominated over the past year. Her popularity has soared already, and it is hard to imagine just how big Gu will be if she manages to leave Beijing — on her way back home to San Francisco — with three gold medals.