'Grateful' Gu wins halfpipe gold for third medal of Beijing Games
Californian-born Chinese sensation Eileen Gu said she felt "a deep-seated sense of gratitude" after winning her second gold of the Beijing Olympics and third medal overall in Friday's halfpipe.
The 18-year-old set the seal on a hugely successful Games with another commanding performance, clinching the title before she had even started her third and final run.
Gu switched from representing the US to China in 2019 and she said that winning her third medal felt like a "coming-together moment".
"The over-riding emotion is this deep-seated sense of gratitude and resolution -- this all coming together, years and years in the making," she said, wearing a panda hat after the victory ceremony.
"It's like letting out a deep breath."
Gu became the first athlete to win three Olympic medals in three different freestyle skiing disciplines, after claiming gold in Big Air and silver in slopestyle in Beijing.
She was hotly tipped to add the halfpipe title after topping Thursday's qualifying, and she wasted no time in laying down a marker in the final with a first-run score of 93.25.
That put her in first place and she raised the bar further on her second run, scoring 95.25 to put the title within her reach.
Her victory was confirmed while she waited at the top of the halfpipe for her final run, and she spent several moments hugging her coaches before making her way down with a relaxed and joyous victory lap.
"I was very emotional at the top and I chose to do a victory lap because I felt like for the first time I really deserved it and I really earned it," she said.
"It was a great punctuation on this amazing journey up to the Olympics."
Canada's Cassie Sharpe took silver on 90.75 points, while another Canadian, Rachael Karker, claimed bronze on 87.75.
- Handling the pressure -
But all eyes were on the magnetic Gu, who has become the face of the Beijing Games over the past two weeks.
She joked on Thursday that her grandmother, who had never seen her compete, would be "unfazed and unimpressed" by the massive attention when she arrived to watch Friday's final.
Gu has become a sporting icon in China and she said she has received "hundreds of messages" from young girls who have been inspired to take up skiing because of her.
Gu admitted that the pressure "started to catch up" with her before Friday's final, but she said it was "immensely rewarding" to have an impact off the slope as well as on it.
"I'm still trying to figure out my own life -- the fact that I've been able to create some kind of positive change already has exceeded my expectations," she said.
But Gu refused to say whether she would attempt to defend her Olympics titles in Italy in four years' time.
She is preparing to start studying at Stanford University later this year and she said she had "no idea" whether she would continue to compete in freestyle skiing.
"I love skiing still, I would love to continue competing, but in terms of resources and time and whatever else I'm juggling, it just depends," she said.
"I'm going to do whatever feels right, and hopefully I'll be able to create some kind of positive change out of any position that I'm in."
In the meantime, Gu said her immediate plan was to eat lamb hot pot with her mother and grandmother.
"From the opening ceremony to today I was skiing every single day, so I'm really tired," she said.
"But I feel at peace, I feel grateful, I feel passionate and I feel proud."
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