Chloe Kim, prodigy, is no more. The same goes for Chloe Kim, political symbol. And that’s a good thing for snowboarding in general and the current standard-bearer of the sport in particular.
Eight years ago, she was the Next Big Thing in halfpipe. Four years ago, the California-born daughter of South Korean immigrants arrived in Pyeonchang carrying the weight of massive expectations of not one country but two on her teenage shoulders.
She delivered with a golden race. Looking back, she wonders at what cost. His response to pressure at the time was to channel his emotions – be it fear, anger, anxiety, anticipation – into 45 seconds of gravity-defying, boundary-pushing tricks that transformed the walls of 22 feet high from the halfpipe in his staff. chart.
It’s been successful for sure. For proof, take a look at the dizzying celebration at sunny Phoenix Snow Park that began with Kim’s mittens strapped to her helmet after stomping her victory lap.
That doesn’t mean it was healthy.
So while Kim looks back in gratitude at her crowning glory as the face of women’s snowboarding, there’s also a hint of regret for what she’s been put through internally.
Even though the crossover fame reserved for Olympic champions who really have the “It Factor” (see Simone Biles, Michael Phelps and Shaun White) splashed on him, Kim questioned his lifelong love for the very thing that made d she a star. breaking this when technically not some sort of retreat looked and felt like this.
She came back as promised but makes a point of doing it her way this time around.
Of course, the pressure will be there as she tries to defend her Olympic title in the foothills of the Zhangjiakou Mountains. It’s the way the 21-year-old plans to handle it that has changed.
The proof came to life halfway around the world in mid-December, when she fell not one but two in her first two races in the Finals during a Dew Tour stop at Copper Mountain.
During the first iteration of her career, Kim might have tried to ignore mistakes, anyway on the outside, while trying to bury her frustration. Those days are over.
“I’m just at a point now where I want to be myself and feel whatever I’m feeling and not bottle up my emotions and blow up one day, which was pretty common practice for me a few years ago,” said said Kim. “It puts me in a much better headspace.”
A spot Kim found on her last trip down the pipe, where back-to-back 1080-degree spins propelled her past Spain’s Queralt Castellet and China’s Xuetong Cai to the top step of the podium.
It’s a victory she doesn’t think she could have achieved with her old mindset, at least keeping her sanity intact.
She learned that it’s not only OK to not be OK, but it’s also OK to tell others you’re not OK, as she did in a first-person essay published by ESPN last spring in which she detailed how attacks on social media and an increase in aggression against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the country has taken its toll on her.
Her revelation – a surprise to some due to Kim’s relentlessly optimistic personality – was an important part of her personal growth.
“It’s helped me not to heal, but to understand what’s going on and how often unfair that (abuse) is and how unfair it is for a lot of people of color,” Kim said. “I think talking about it was very important to me.”
It also provided him with the kind of perspective he lacked before heading to Pyeongchang. His world has become far bigger than anything on a 600 foot tube carved into the side of a mountain. She took three years off, a period during which she started college, appeared in “The Masked Singer” and had a Barbie doll made in her likeness and her worldview changed.
Maybe that’s why she doesn’t get too upset – or at least tries not to get too upset – about adding a second gold medal to the one she has. claimed in Pyeongchang.
“I don’t really understand everything that’s going on in defense,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m defending anything. I’m just going to do another contest. And hopefully, you know, the conditions are great and I can get the race that I want.
A race that, when Kim succeeds, is still the best in the world.
“Chloe is like a bomb,” said Castellet, who will be among Kim’s main challengers, a group that includes 21-year-old American Maddie Mastro. “She’s like a ball of fire. She always goes.”
Even if the way Kim goes about it has changed. She is the most technical female rider in the world and one of the most progressive.
“The variations of runs that she can do and where she wants to put certain tricks (separates her),” said Louie Vito, a member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic team who will compete for Italy in Beijing. “You have a lot of people, but I think a lot of people are looking for Chloe, I would say.”
NBC was not shy about promoting Kim at every turn as the Games approached. The blessing and curse of Kim’s immense talent is that she will ultimately be compared only to herself, the same fate that greeted White – aiming for a fourth gold medal in five Olympics – every time came back to compete under the rings.
White, now 35, is at the end of his journey. Kim’s is in the middle. A lot of things happened. Lots of things are going to happen. She intends to meet the challenges ahead on her terms and only on her terms. It’s the only way to get ahead in life, gold or no gold.
“It’s brought a lot of peace knowing that I can be myself 24/7 without having to show off.”
AP sportswriter Pat Graham and AP national writer Eddie Pells contributed to this report.
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