She narrowly beat out France’s Tess Ledeux, who took silver with a score of 187.50. Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud won the bronze.
“Even if I didn’t land it, I felt it would send a message out to the world and hopefully encourage more girls to break their own boundaries,” she added. “That was my biggest goal going into my last run. I reminded myself to have fun and enjoy the moment and that, no matter what, I was so grateful to even have this opportunity to even be here.”
Ledeux, who had been leading the competition until the last run when she overbalanced on the landing, sank to the ground in tears after the final result. Gu and Gremaud both knelt on the snowy floor to console her, pulling Ledeux into a hug and rubbing her back.
Gu’s victory sparked joyous scenes online. The topic dominated searches on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo, where seven of the 10 top trending topics were all about Gu’s win. Fans on her Weibo, where she has 2.6 million followers, left more than 90,000 comments in less than 30-minutes after her win.
Related hashtags, such as “Gu Ailing won the gold medal,” received more than 300 million views within an hour — eventually crashing the entire Weibo site due to the massive number of users.
Chinese authorities were also unusually quick to congratulate Gu. “We are glad to hear that Gu Ailing, a Beijing athlete, won a precious gold medal for the Chinese sports delegation and honored for the country with her perfect performance in the final of the women’s freestyle ski platform at the Beijing Winter Olympic Games,” said the Beijing Municipal Government and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Beijing Committee, referring to Gu by her Chinese name.
Gu’s father is American and her mother is Chinese. She grew up skiing on the slopes of Lake Tahoe, and had reached her first World Cup podium by the age of 15.
At a news conference after her win on Tuesday, reporters asked Gu several times if she was still a US citizen. She dodged answering each time, saying only that she felt American in the US and Chinese in China.
Since joining China’s national team, Gu’s face has been splashed across magazine covers and billboards in the country. She has landed numerous sponsorships and brand deals, and is fast becoming one of China’s hottest young stars — though her newfound success has also come with increased scrutiny from critics in the West.
Apart from her skiing career, she’s also a model, brand ambassador, and was accepted into Stanford University, which she plans to attend in the fall.
CNN’s Helen Regan contributed to this report.