In the span of a week, three American-born athletes of Chinese descent have been thrust into the spotlight at the Beijing Winter Olympics – to very different reactions in China.
All three were trained in the United States and are only a few years apart in age, but their paths diverged on the way to the Games. While figure skater Nathan Chen is competing for Team USA, freestyle skier Eileen Gu and figure skater Zhu Yi opted to compete for China.
Gu and Chen both won gold, while Zhu faltered on the ice during two consecutive showings. The public responses they’ve received in the Olympic host nation also took different turns.
Gu was hailed as a national hero, winning hearts, fame and fortune; Zhu was abused online, accused of bringing “shame” to her adopted country; and Chen was labeled a “traitor,” coming under nationalistic wrath for “insulting China.”
The young athletes have found themselves embroiled in deteriorating US-China relations, during one of the most divisive, tightly controlled and politically fraught Olympic Games in history.