ZHANGJIAKOU, China —
A final fall, a shrug and a gold medal. All in a casual day’s work for Chloe Kim.
Four years after becoming the youngest woman to win Olympic gold in snowboarding, Kim became the first woman to win two gold medals in snowboarding halfpipe Thursday at Genting Snow Park. When many of her fellow American stars have fallen short of gold medal expectation during these Games, Kim lapped her competition, throwing down an untouchable score in the first run and falling on her final two runs when she attempted to debut never-before-seen combinations. Dropping in last with the gold medal already secured, Kim launched herself off the halfpipe wall in an attempt to land a 1260 — three and a half spins — but sat down the trick.
Kim sheepishly raised both arms as she rode to the bottom of the halfpipe.
Queralt Castellet of Spain took silver while Japan’s Sena Tomita won bronze.
The last time Kim stood on top of an Olympic podium, the medal she received ended up in the trash.
The weight of gold nearly crushed the then-17-year-old whose journey to Olympic glory seemed perfect. Kim, the daughter of Korean immigrants, returned to her parents’ home country and won gold with her family in attendance.
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Her father Jong Jin had scooped his sleeping daughter out of bed in the middle of night and laid her in the back of the car to rest more while he drove six hours from their home in Torrance to Mammoth Mountain for training every weekend. It paid off with Olympic gold. Pointing toward himself, he shouted at reporters “American dream!”
It resulted in the typical media blitz that follows Olympic stars, especially young, charismatic and talented ones like Kim. The teenager who tweeted about getting “hangry” minutes before winning the gold medal in 2018 appeared on Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine, had a cameo in a Maroon 5 and Cardi B music video and got made into a Barbie doll.
From riding frozen halfpipes with her face covered by helmets and goggles, Kim was walking red carpets in glamorous dresses at the ESPYs, Billboard Music Awards and Kid’s Choice Awards. Suddenly people started recognizing her everywhere. Others took it to greater, more disturbing lengths, she said, by finding out where she lived or trying to break into her house. She never thought her life would end up like that.
So she tossed the one thing she worked so hard to get.
“At that time, the only thing I could blame was that medal,” Kim said.
She found herself burnt out from the sport that defined, and in some ways stole, her entire childhood. Lamenting that she didn’t go to a traditional public school or attend her prom, Kim sought what she believed was a normal life. That meant moving across the country for college.
After the 2018-19 season, Kim enrolled at Princeton, where she was planning to attend before the Games. College life helped ease the burnout from the grueling Olympic spotlight. She mingled with classmates with diverse backgrounds and interests. Some didn’t know anything about snowboarding. It was perfect.
“That was a really important lesson for me to learn,” said Kim, who took a break from her studies during the pandemic to return to snowboarding. “That it’s OK to take a step back if you feel like you need some space and now I’m back and I feel so much better than I did then.”
During her snowboarding hiatus, Kim grew her interests outside the sport. She joined star athletes Alex Morgan, Naomi Osaka and Sue Bird to found Togethxr, a media and commerce platform dedicated to women in sports. She switched from longtime sponsor Burton to Roxy, a brand known for its women’s apparel, and is designing a capsule collection with the brand.
When she did return to the halfpipe in 2021, the all-grown-up 21-year-old remained unchanged in one key aspect: She was still unstoppable. Kim won six consecutive events entering the Olympics. Her love for the sport she once literally threw away was still evident.
Back on the Olympic stage that started it all, Kim felt refreshed, she said. But she recognized the added pressure of the Games, especially with a chance to become the first female snowboarder to win two golds in halfpipe. Less than one week into the Beijing Games, attempts at defending gold medals have already gone haywire for American stars like Jamie Anderson, Red Gerard and Mikaela Shiffrin. Anderson, a two-time gold medalist in snowboard slopestyle, wrote on Instagram she “just straight up couldn’t handle the pressure.”
Kim was again the center of attention before her competition when she attracted nearly all the questions as a press conference with halfpipe teammates Maddie Mastro, Tessa Maud and Zoe Kalapos. When asked of her goals for Beijing, Kim exhaled sharply.
“I just want to land the best run I can,” she said, alluding to a complicated set that would include a rumored three new tricks while emphasizing amplitude and Kim’s ability to spin in all four directions.
Kim didn’t even need her best to win gold. She dropped to her knees after her first run, breathless from a near flawless opener that included two 1080s and a 900. She bowed her forehead to the snow and covered her mouth with a mittened hand.
With only two other competitors attempting 1080s, and no more than one of the triple-twisting trick per run, Kim’s early 94-point score faced no challenge.
Like one of the memorable images of her at the Pyeongchang games, Kim grasped the sides of her helmet with her mouth wide open after the run.
Her first Olympic gold, the thing that changed her life, didn’t last in the trash for long. She fished it out and now has a matching pair.