Asian Americans Are Kicking Ass at the Olympics
This year's Winter Olympics in Beijing are showcasing the best of the best in winter sports, from snowboarders and figure skaters to the curling and ice hockey teams. The games have also been a momentous occasion for the Asian American community. Notable winners so far have included Nathan Chen, Eileen Gu, and Chloe Kim, all of whom earned gold medals amid the frenzy of competition.
But this is more than just sports; the representation is also a much needed victory for the Asian American community amid the rise in race-based violence over the last few years.
American skater Nathan Chen won his first Olympic gold medal in the men's single skating competition last Thursday. The 22-year-old Yale student was the first American figure skating champion since Evan Lysacek in 2010. He took gold with his program set to Elton John's "Rocket Man" and was just three points shy of his own record.
Chloe Kim made Olympic history this year during her very first run at the Beijing games: the 21-year-old became the first woman to take back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the snowboard halfpipe. Kim has long been regarded as the women's snowboard halfpipe queen — she was the youngest female Olympic gold medalist at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, and was named Female Athlete of the Year at the 2018 ESPY Awards. Despite the pressure, she didn't disappoint.
California native and Chinese-American freestyle skier Eileen Gu grabbed headlines when she made the controversial choice to compete on behalf of China (her mother's native country) rather than the United States, where she resides and where her father is from. The 18-year-old student and model came into the games with all eyes on her: she made X Games history last year when she won gold in halfpipe and slopestyle. In Beijing, she won gold in the women's big ski program.
Gu's heritage has been a huge topic of conversation in this year's games, with many criticizing her choice to represent China. She's addressed this both on social media and her interviews. It's also been pointed out that this is an unfair standard, given that there are also Americans on other nation's teams.
"I definitely feel as though I'm just as American as I am Chinese," Gu told USA Today. "I'm American when I'm in the U.S. and Chinese when I'm in China, and I've been outspoken about my gratitude to both the U.S. and China for making me the person that I am."
As unfortunate as it is, part of being an Asian American in the spotlight means bracing for the inevitable xenophobia. This has been especially true over the last two years, when anti-Asian harassment has compounded heavily due to the COVID-19 pandemic that was first detected in China. According to Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of Asian American Pacific Islander groups united against the rise in anti-Asian racism, hate crimes against Asian Americans have not yet slowed.
"Our data clearly shows that Asian Americans across the country continue to be attacked, and that the hate incidents that we have been tracking since March 2020 are not going away," Manjusha Kulkarni, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, said in a news release last summer.
To have such positive visibility for the Asian American community during this time of hardship cannot be undervalued. All three champions have been outspoken about the issues their community faces. In 2021, Kim shared her experiences as an Asian American female with ESPN to help shed light on the harassment that she's faced.
"I was so fed up with people telling me I'm being too silent. I thought, 'I'm going to put this out there so people see that I deal with this, too' … I get hundreds of these [negative] messages monthly. I see maybe 30 a day," Kim said. "Just because I'm a professional athlete or won the Olympics doesn't exempt me from racism. I've experienced it since I was a child."
In spite of the challenges they've faced, all Asian athletes have shone bright at Beijing and continue to set an example for aspiring athletes and other Asian Americans in the nation.