Division Over Nationality: Competing at the Olympics

DEBATES+OVER+NATIONALITY%3A+Athletes+deserve+support+for+their+decisions+rather+than+criticism.

Ellie Lan

DEBATES OVER NATIONALITY: Athletes deserve support for their decisions rather than criticism.

Annie Lee, Staff Writer

Soaring through the crisp air to massive heights, China’s representative Eileen Gu clinched two gold medals and one silver medal in three different skiing categories at the 2022 Winter Olympics. But while the Chinese media has overwhelmed the Chinese-American Olympic athlete with praise for the 18-year-old’s historic accomplishment, the American media has been criticizing Gu, who was born and raised in the United States, for being an ungrateful “traitor” to her home country.

Resulting from extreme national pride, the heated reactions about Gu and other multi-racial athletes emphasizes the need for athletes to be supported regardless of which country they choose to compete for.

Many critics of Gu believed that she chose to represent China either to secure endorsement opportunities or because she agreed with the human rights violations which led many countries to boycott the Olympics. However, Gu has repeatedly stated that instead of a political choice, her decision to compete for China was because of a deep attachment she felt with her Chinese heritage, a dream to increase the popularity of skiing in China and an aspiration to become a role model for Chinese female athletes. 

Despite Gu’s nonpolitical reasons for representing China, the increasingly political nature of the Olympics has portrayed her win as a diplomatic victory of China over the US. This frequent perspective of actions in geopolitical terms is harmful for those with dual identities because they are forced to fit into a binary: one culture or the other, but never both.

Gu is not the first Olympic athlete with a dual citizenship who chose to compete for another country. During the 2020 Summer Olympics, American-born Jewish baseball player and Northwood alumni Zach Weiss played for Israel’s baseball team for similarly nonpolitical reasons.

“We put together a team of predominantly American Jews who got citizenship over the course of a few years, traveled to Israel and created baseball camps trying to grow the game there,” Weiss said. “The majority of guys on Team Israel would have not made Team USA. This was our route not only to help the state of Israel, but for ourselves to make it to the Olympics.”

Although Chinese media has lauded Gu as a new poster child, Zhu Yi, another American-born athlete who joined the Chinese Olympic team, was heavily shamed by the Chinese public for falling during the Olympic skating events and lowering China’s standings. Not only was Yi’s performance criticized, but also her inability to speak fluent Mandarin in contrast to Gu’s fluency. 

The differing reactions shows the challenges for many bicultural individuals: In order to be accepted, one has to bring glory to the country they represent. But the validity of one’s identity should not be based on one’s achievements.

Even though Gu’s gold medal counts towards China’s medal count, the success of one athlete should be treated as a global accomplishment. People must recognize that competing on a world stage already puts immense pressure on athletes, and should display better sportsmanship instead of criticizing athletes for choices that they’re allowed to make.

“A lot of people write nasty comments that have little to do with them or sharing just for the sake of making themselves feel better or putting someone else down,” Weiss said. “You don’t know everyone’s circumstances. Being supportive and not being quick to judge would suit people well.”