When she stood at the top of Pyeongchang half-pipe before her final run, Chloe Kim had already secured the gold medal.
For competitive purposes, the last run meant nothing, but for artistic and athletic value, it carried historic weight. It stamped the 17-year-old as a groundbreaker, one of the most talented snowboarders in the sport’s history. It sent a message to girls all over the world: look at what you can do when you strap a hi-tech plank to your feet.
The coronation of a new American Olympic darling took place on Tuesday. Chloe entered the Olympics as an overwhelming favourite in women’s half-pipe; many were convinced she could have won gold four years ago, at the age of 13, had she not been too young to compete in Russia. But the high expectation didn’t diminish the thrill of watching Chloe in action.
Chloe’s first run, which scored a 93.75, guaranteed her first place. She spilled in the middle of her second run, which left her “kind of annoyed”. On her third run, she executed three spins on the left side of the half-pipe, whooshed up the other wall and pulled off the same trick on that side. The crowd roared: Chloe had become the first female to land consecutive 1080s (three complete turns) in the half-pipe at the Olympics. The run earned her a 98.25, more than eight points clear of Chinese silver medallist Liu Jiayu.
“I knew if I went home with the gold medal knowing that I could do better, I wasn’t going to be very satisfied,” Chloe said. “I did put down a really good first run, but I was like, ‘I can do better than that. I can one-up myself’. The third run was for me to prove to myself if I did it, and I could go home really happy and excited.”
Chloe’s South Korean-born father, Jong Jin, would drive his daughter for more than five hours each way from their home to snowboarding practice. On Tuesday, he watched from in front of the grandstand at the base of the half-pipe, holding up a sign reading “Go Chloe!”
“I told her, today is the day you will turn into a dragon,” he said.
In the wake of her win, Chloe was thrown into a whirlwind of reporters and photographers.
“I don’t really know what’s happening, and I’m actually feeling a little anxious right now,” Chloe said. “I’m a little overwhelmed.”
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But despite her nerves, Chloe carried herself with an easy-going personality and proved she’s a regular teen. She tweeted about craving ice cream on Monday afternoon, in between qualification rounds, and then again on Tuesday, between finals runs, told the world she wished she had finished her breakfast sandwich, and she was now “hangry”.
“I’ve just been on my phone a lot, just looking at social media, trying to distract myself,” Chloe said.
But it’s Chloe’s jaw-dropping talent that makes her most appealing. Even to a wider audience with little snowboarding knowledge, her outstanding ability is obvious. She achieves more height on her jumps, packs more spins and flips into them, and lands her board back on the ground like a feather.
Newly-awarded gold medallists are often asked the same question: What would you tell people like yourself, but younger? Less than an hour after her defining run, Chloe gave her response to this question.
“I’d say do whatever you want,” Chloe said. “I think I was so fortunate to find my passion and the thing that brought me so much joy at such a young age. I think if you’re young – even if you’re old, it doesn’t matter how old you are – but if you find something that you really want to try, just give it a try. You’re never going to know. The one thing I learned is, just give everything a shot. You don’t want to live in regret.”
Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge