China’s Eileen Gu won the inaugural gold medal in the Freeski Big Air event at the Winter Olympic Games on Tuesday as tennis star Peng Shuai was spotted watching from the stands.
Californian-born Gu made a strong opening jump, but saved her best for last when she managed four rotations before grabbing the outside of her ski and landing backwards.
France’s Tess Ledeux took the silver and Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud the bronze.
As Gu set off for her final run, the crowd of several hundred at the Big Air Shougang venue roared “Come on”.
The 18-year-old put her hands on her helmet as she landed cleanly and realised she had pulled off a winning jump.
At the finish zone, she screamed with joy and fell to her knees as the scores flashed up, watched by International Olympic president Thomas Bach, who was among the first to congratulate her on her gold medal at her Olympics debut.
The crowd then gave her a standing ovation.
Tennis star Peng Shuai, whose welfare has been a cause of international concern since she made a sexual assault allegation against a senior Chinese official last November, was seen among the crowd watching Gu’s victory wearing a black bobble hat emblazoned with the Olympic rings and a black coat with the Chinese flag.
Bach confirmed Peng was at the event.
“She was sitting there and we had the opportunity to talk and now she has to go to the quarantine, she told me, she will leave now the closed loop,” he told the Reuters news agency.
Peng alleged that former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli forced her into sex during a years-long relationship.
The post was swiftly removed from Chinese social media and she was not seen for several weeks, leading the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and some of the world’s top tennis players to call for more information on her whereabouts.
She was then pictured by state media at various events and in a video call with Bach on November 21. The next month, in an interview with a Singapore newspaper, she denied ever making the comments.
On Monday, in an interview with the French sports daily L’Equipe, she again repeated the denial and said she had not “disappeared” from view. Peng was accompanied by Chinese Olympic Committee chief of staff Wang Kan during the interview when the three-time Olympian said she would also be retiring from the sport.
WTA chairman Steve Simon said after the interview was published that it had not alleviated the organisation’s concerns about the player.
“As we would do with any of our players globally, we have called for a formal investigation into the allegations by the appropriate authorities and an opportunity for the WTA to meet with Peng – privately – to discuss her situation,” Simon said in a statement.
“We continue to hold firm on our position and our thoughts remain with Peng Shuai.”
As for Gu — born to an American father and Chinese mother — she has become one of China’s most popular sport stars and endorses several luxury brands. She competed for the United States until 2019.