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Olympic freestyle skier Eileen Gu stuns with final big air trick and wins gold

Eileen Gu wins the gold medal during the Olympic Games 2022, Women's Freeski Big Air on Feb. 8, 2022 in Zhangjiakou China.
Christophe Pallot
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Getty Images
Eileen Gu wins the gold medal during the Olympic Games 2022, Women's Freeski Big Air on Feb. 8, 2022 in Zhangjiakou China.

BEIJING — American-born Eileen Gu struck gold Tuesday at the Beijing Winter Games — becoming the first woman to win the Olympics' inaugural freeski big air event.

Gu, who is representing China, was trailing France's Tess Ledeux before her final run. She perfectly executed a double cork 1620 jump — meaning she completed two distinct off-axis rotations in the air. It was a trick she had never tried in competition before.

The bold move was entirely unplanned, Gu said after her event.

"I was guaranteed a podium spot when I dropped in [for her final jump]," she said. "I was thinking, 'Should I improve on my previous one and go for the silver or should I whip out this random trick I'd never done before and go for gold?'"

Her daring move paid off. Judges gave her a score of 94.50 on the her last run, which pushed her past Ledux with a total score of 188.25.

Before Gu had even skied to the finish line she screamed, "Oh my God!"

Leading up to the Olympics, the 18-year-old Gu was seen as a likely contender for multiple gold medals in her freeski events. Tuesday was the first of Gu's competitions in Beijing, but it cemented her status as one of the Games' major stars, especially among local Chinese fans.

Ledux finished second with 187.50 points. After executing a switch left double cork 1440 Japan in her last run, she raised her leg slightly as she landed.

Switzerland's Mathilde Gremaud had a promising start of her competition, but came in third with 182.50 points, after crashing.

Gu has competed for China since 2019

Eileen Gu of Team China performs her gold-making trick during the Women's Freestyle Skiing Freeski Big Air Final at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the Big Air Shougang  venue on Feb.8, 2022.
Richard Heathcote / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Eileen Gu of Team China performs her gold-making trick during the Women's Freestyle Skiing Freeski Big Air Final at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the Big Air Shougang venue on Feb.8, 2022.

Gu, whose mother is Chinese and her father American, is originally from San Francisco.

But since 2019, Gu has competed under the Chinese flag.

"This was an incredibly tough decision for me to make. I am proud of my heritage, and equally proud of my American upbringings," Gu wrote on Instagram. "The opportunity to help inspire millions of young people where my mom was born, during the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help to promote the sport I love."

She's continued to share her hope of inspiring young girls, especially in China, to get into freeski sports and to "shift sport culture toward one motivated by passion."

Gu, who is also a model and appears for ads in China and abroad, appears to have a strong fan base in China. At the Shougang Big Air venue, a group of Chinese fans screamed and cheered loudly for Gu as she wrapped her final run. At the Olympics media center in Beijing, loud cheers and applause could be heard from young, Chinese volunteers.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jaclyn Diaz