Gu has impressed Chinese fans with her successes, charmed them with her knowledge of Chinese culture and endeared herself with her strong Beijing accent.
Rumors have percolated that she might carry the Olympic torch. She did so in a Chinese promotional short film that reportedly had 100 million views in two days. At the end, Gu and a popular Chinese actor ran with the Olympic torch on the Great Wall.
The ability to spin
A few days after Gu jetted back to Switzerland from October’s Paris fashion event at the Louvre, she was at the glacial training camp above Saas-Fee, honing her freeskiing tricks.
Gu is one of the few skiers or snowboarders who compete at the highest level in both the halfpipe and slopestyle. (At the Olympics, those who qualify for slopestyle will also enter the big air competition, a single massive artificial jump that has been erected in urban Beijing.)
On the glacier, Gu stood out. She is tall (5 feet 9 inches) and lanky, in a sport where many athletes are small and muscular, more like gymnasts than models. She wore a hip-length jacket — some days black, some days red — with a large dragon on the back. Her hair, with a hint of blond, was teased out of the front of her Red Bull helmet.
Athletically, what mostly separates Gu from her competitors is an ability to adeptly spin in four different directions — left or right while skiing forward or backward. Another is that she is relentless about training.
Fly, flip, twist, land; fly, flip, twist, land. Catch the T-bar. Repeat.
Weeks later, in December, Gu won the major halfpipe competition in Colorado. After the awards ceremony, and after photographs and hugs with those she beat again, Gu was on her way to practice on the slopestyle course.