From nationally ranked athletes to an Olympic champion

Incoming Stanford athletes share their aspirations for the year

Sept. 30, 2022, 12:23 a.m.

With 155 total National championship titles, Stanford has one of the strongest athletic programs in the country. The Daily spoke with a few incoming athletes about their backgrounds and what they are most looking forward to on campus this fall.

Eileen Gu — Skiing

Born in California, Eileen Gu entered the world of sports at age three thanks to her mother, who used to drop her off at ski school. By age seven, Gu had not only become well-versed in her sport but also courageous enough to push herself past what many would consider safe. “Deciding that slowing down was an optional choice — one well-suited for the weak-hearted, at that — I got in the habit of straight-lining from the top of the mountain,” Gu wrote in a statement to The Daily. 

“To mitigate the physical danger of skiing at such high speeds, my mom decided to put me in a freeski team without much knowledge of what the sport actually entailed,” Gu wrote. “Countless flips over sixty-foot gaps, and slides down metal rails later, I can confidently say she made the right call.” 

By age nine, Gu had already made herself a household name, becoming the junior champion of the USA Snowboard and Freeski Association. After representing the US in her 2017–’18 career, Gu has represented China since June 2019. Gu continued to achieve greater feats, securing Halfpipe gold at the 2020 Youth Games in Lausanne, Switzerland, maintaining an undefeated record in her 2021–’22 season and taking home the crystal globe at the FIS World Cup.

Gu’s most memorable skiing experience was during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, where she competed in the halfpipe, big air and slopestyle. Gu said she hoped to inspire the next generation of Chinese and Chinese-American kids in sports. 

“Standing at the top of the Olympic Big Air before my final run, I knew I had to do the impossible,” Gu wrote. “After two of three opportunities, I was sitting in third place. Having already landed my best tricks, I decided to attempt an unnatural double cork 1620, a trick that I, nor any female skier in history, had ever even tried before.”

Dropping onto the slope, Gu entered the “deepest state of focus” she had ever experienced. In front of an audience of millions, Eileen twisted and turned several times in the air before coming down — and landing. 

“As soon as I landed, I knew my life would never be the same, and I was right,” Gu wrote. “Landing the 1620 and winning my first Olympic gold medal was by far the best moment not only of my ski career but of my entire 18-year existence.”

Gu won three medals at the Winter Olympics, two golds and one silver, cementing her legacy as one of the sport’s emerging greats. After her gap year to compete in the Olympics and model, Gu is excited to join the University’s ski team this fall.

“I’m just excited and ready for college,” Gu wrote. “I can’t wait to be on campus, surrounded by people I can learn from and have fun with, and who are immensely talented and interesting in their own right.” 

Crystal Qian — Fencing

Crystal Qian, who attended Lynbrook High School, will be attending Stanford this fall as a recruited athlete on the fencing team. Born and raised in Cupertino, California, Qian began her fencing career at the age of eight after a family friend introduced the sport to her parents. A year later, Qian began competing in regional tournaments, repeatedly medaling but falling short of first place. 

As Qian grew into her teenage years, her fencing skills reached new heights. In her final year of Y14, Qian won bronze and silver in the first two competitions of the season. At the Summer National Championships in 2019, Qian medaled gold, giving her a boost of confidence to continue honing her skills.

“I think winning gold was probably one of the most exciting moments in my fencing career because I never expected to do that well,” Qian said in an interview with The Daily. “Around the time I was 14 years old, I realized that I had a shot at attending a top school if I continued improving and kept going.”

Qian’s biggest accomplishment came in 2021 when she was selected to play for the Cadet World Team. By the time she made it on the team, Qian was ranked no. 1 in her age group nationwide. 

“I didn’t do too great on the team, but being selected was really huge for me because that was what I was working toward in my entire fencing career,” Qian said. “I’m probably more proud of making the Cadet team than winning the 2019 National Championship, but both of those things were really huge.”

While Qian looks forward to working with the fencing team at Stanford, she hopes to continue training with her club coach. Qian plans to “compete nationally and internationally” as she remains a member of the national team.

“If I’m hoping to do well outside of the collegiate fencing bubble, I think staying with my club coach will be a really great help for me,” Qian said.

At Stanford, Qian is most excited for “all the dynamics of collegiate fencing” and working alongside other fencers as a team.

Jake Maikkula — Football 

Jake Maikkula, an incoming freshman, will join Stanford football this fall as an offensive tackle. Born in Austin, Texas, and raised in Sedalia, Colorado, Maikkula began playing non-tackle football at an early age after being inspired by his father, who played college football. Though Maikkula said in an interview with The Daily that his family had always been a “baseball family,” he eventually transitioned into playing tackle football as a middle schooler. 

When Maikkula was a sophomore at Valor Christian High School in Colorado, he realized he had a chance at playing football at college after receiving words of encouragement from his coach who told him that he “had a really high ceiling and could potentially succeed if [he] kept working.”

During his senior year of high school, Maikkula, a three-star offensive tackle, led his team to the State Championships after securing a victory in a single playoff game, against a team that he had lost to two years prior. 

After leading Valor Christian to a pair of 5A state runners-up finishes and ranking third in Colorado, Maikkula committed to Stanford on July 31, 2021. 

“I think [Stanford] is an amazing place,” Maikkula said. “The combination of academics and athletics is amazing. I also really like the coaches, the people, and the players that I talk to within the football organization. It’s just the type of people I want to be around and spend my time with.”

Anton Ouyang — Golf

Anton Ouyang will join Stanford this fall after being recruited to the golf team. 

Ouyang’s career in golf began at the age of one when his father, an avid golfer himself, introduced him to the sport. Ouyang told The Daily he began enjoying golf as he became more experienced, remembering memories of his father taking him to the golf range at night.  

“I sort of fell in love with golf myself because it was a good time to spend time with my family,” Ouyang said. “Every shot is different, so that was the thing that I felt was challenging and interesting to me.”

At five years old, Ouyang competed in his first golf tournament at the Santa Teresa Golf Club, a junior golf club in San Jose. There, Ouyang made his first golf friends and began to enjoy competing against other golfers. At twelve years old, Ouyang competed in the IMG Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego, winning the tournament and gaining hopes for a future in golf.

“The tournament gave me a confidence booster and really pushed me to try to pursue the sport in college and possibly professionally,” Ouyang said. 

At fourteen years old, Ouyang made it to the American Junior Golf Association Junior All-Star Team, making him one of the top 10 junior players nationwide. As a senior in high school, Ouyang continued to play at higher levels, eventually ranking 8th in the U.S. 

At Stanford, Ouyang looks forward to “being on the same team with some of the top golfers while also being able to practice with them, learn from them, and chase the dreams of possibly winning an NCAA championship.”

All four athletes expressed their excitement to train and compete with equally talented teammates at Stanford this semester. They reflected on how persistence and hard work were key to their success and will remain key to them as they play at the collegiate level. 

Daniel Shin is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact him at workshop 'at'

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