PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Gold medal already in hand and Olympic dream fully realized, Chloe Kim could have turned her third and final run in the women’s snowboarding final into a victory lap.
Only she didn’t. She couldn’t. Gold medals are nice and all, but to the 17-year-old star, the journey is the point, not the destination. It’s about proving something. Not to quiet whatever doubters may remain in a sport where she’s stamping herself as an all-time great as a teenager, but to herself.
So she went for it. She had no choice.
“I knew that if I went home with a gold medal knowing I could do better, I wasn’t going to be satisfied,” Kim said.
That shouldn’t be a problem. Kim turned her coronation into an exclamation point, stomping a pair of 1080 spins (three complete turns), then practically diving into a hug with American teammate and bronze medal winner Arielle Gold to seal a moment four years in the making.
“I don’t really know what’s happening and I’m actually feeling a little anxious right now,” Kim said. “I’m a little overwhelmed. But this is the best outcome I could ever ask for and it’s been such a long journey. Ahhh, just going home with the gold is amazing.”
So is her riding.
Competing in front of her extended family, a group that included her Korean-born parents and her South Korean grandmother, and apparently on an empty stomach — she actually tweeted during the competition that she was “hangry” after failing to finish her breakfast sandwich — Kim put on a show that delivered on her considerable pre-Olympic hype. She put together a 93.75 during her first run, one that included just one 1080, not the two that have become her trademark. No matter. The perfection-flirting third run provided a cathartic exclamation point.
“I knew that I did put down a really good first run, but I was also like, ‘I can do better than that. I can one up myself,’” Kim said.
She’s the only one.
Liu Jiayu took silver with an 89.75 to become the first Chinese snowboarder to medal at the Olympics. Gold, who pondered retirement last summer, overcame a dislocated shoulder suffered during training to edge teammate and three-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark for third.
Kim’s parents were born in South Korea and moved to the United States, putting their daughter in an interesting position heading into her first Olympics.
While she understands the urge to build a narrative around her that turns her into a connective tissue of sorts between the host country and the one she calls home, it’s one she has politely sidestepped. She views herself as just a kid from Torrance who likes music, the mall, ice cream and, oh, by the way, putting down the kind of gravity-escaping, physics challenging runs that have made her a dominant force in her sport.
Kim would have made the Olympic team with ease four years ago, only to have the calendar get in the way. She was 13 at the time, too young to make the trip to Russia. She entered the quadrennium between the games with the kind of expectations reserved for the Shaun Whites of the snowboarding world. She has exceeded every one.