China’s winter sports hope Eileen Gu makes historic X Games debut

Society & Culture

One of China's brightest young athletes is Eileen Gu, a naturalized citizen who is expected to shine at the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics. She just made a historic Winter X Games debut over the weekend.

17-year-old freeskier Eileen Gu made an immediate impact in her X Games debut over the weekend in Aspen, more than a year after her stunning performances at the Winter Youth Olympics in Lausanne.

On Friday, Gu — the only rookie skier competing in this year’s Winter X Games — opened her competition by taking bronze in Big Air (losing to Mathilde Gremaud, who became the first woman to hit a Switch Double Cork 1440). Just hours later, she won gold in the Superpipe, executing a nearly flawless run with slick 900s and 720s, including a Flatspin alley-oop 720.

The next day, Gu took on the Slopestyle, executing a super clean run that included a big 450 Disaster that her competitors could not match.

Gu became the first person to win three medals in her X Games debut.

“Winning Slopestyle was an unreal experience and being the first female rookie to win three medals at the X Games capped off the best two days of my life,” Gu said.

Gu, who was born in San Francisco and grew up in the U.S., switched her nationality to China before the Winter Youth Olympic Games last year. With Beijing 2022 on the horizon, the teenager is set to break through into the wider sporting consciousness.

With China promising to get 300 million people involved in winter sports by 2022, Gu could be the spark that kickstarts a new generation of Chinese skiers, much in the same way Shaun White did for a generation of American snowboarders.


Rafa Benitez leaves Dalian Pro amid rumors of investor exodus

Former Liverpool and Real Madrid manager Rafa Benitez announced his departure from CSL side Dalian Pro, citing the COVID-19 pandemic in his reasons.

“Unfortunately, like so many things in the last year, COVID-19 has changed our lives and our projects. From today, both my coaching staff and I will sadly no longer be coaching Dalian Professional FC,” the Spaniard revealed on his personal website.

“It has been an incredible experience and for this I would like to thank all my staff, coaches, medical and club staff as well as our players; their commitment to us in the first place, their support during the time we were there, and their effort has been magnificent. The pandemic is still here, for all of us, and supporting our families has been a priority when making this decision.”

Benitez had a difficult 12 months at Dalian Pro, and largely failed to live up to expectations. The team finished seventh out of eight in its league group last season, missing out on the championship playoffs.

The Champions League winner arrived in Dalian with high expectations and with a vision of transforming the youth system at the club. “I’m convinced we have left a structure and a methodology that will allow the project to go ahead successfully,” Benitez wrote. “The first team has been rejuvenated and the foundations have been laid for the future, from the grassroots schools to the too.”

The departure of Benitez has been followed by rumors of Wanda preparing to withdraw their investment from the club, according to a report from Xinhua.

The brief Xinhua report stated that Wanda had “made it clear that they will discontinue providing investment and sponsorship to the Dalian Pro club.”


Dragon Girl and the Mongol Murderer sign for UFC

Two Chinese fighters, “Mongolian Murderer” Aori Qileng (18-6) and “Dragon Girl” Na Liang (9-4), have become the second and third fighters to be signed out of the UFC Performance Institute Shanghai.

The pair follow in the footsteps of the “Mongolian Knight” Alateng Heili (14-8), who has won two of his first three UFC bouts.

The Shanghai performance institute is regarded by many in the industry as one of China’s best training facilities in any sport.

Aori Qileng, who has been competing in the Wu Ling Feng promotion in China, has a background in Mongolian wrestling, much like his Mongolian counterpart Alateng Heili. The 27-year-old flyweight also has a solid striking base, scoring three KO’s in his career without ever being on the receiving end of a KO.

Na Liang also arrives in the UFC from WLF. While she may have a patchy record, with her two most recent victories coming by way of disqualification, the 24-year-old is seen as someone who could potentially make it to the official women’s strawweight rankings.

Zhang Weili, the current women’s strawweight champion, alongside Yan Xiaonan (ranked 5th), have drawn a lot of attention in China, and it appears the UFC is determined to keep the momentum going.

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.