She looks like any other young California girl with her sun-kissed blonde hair. But Chloe Kim twisted and turned her way into the hearts of a record-crowd at the Phoenix Snow Park when she won the gold medal at the Winter Olympics in the women’s halfpipe snowboarding.
The 17-year-old American has become a media sensation and a favorite with the home fans with her breezy attitude in Pyeongchang. She also has a natural link with South Korea since her parents were born there before immigrating to the United States in 1982.
“It means a lot just being able to do it where my family is from,” Kim said at a press conference after beating China’s Jiayu Liu and fellow American Arielle Gold.
“There was a lot of pressure, but I’m happy I was able to do it here and do it for the fans and the family.”
Kim is certainly special in the world of snowboarding. She qualified for the Sochi Games four years ago but was unable to compete because she was just 13.
This time it was a different story with a happy ending. Even though she fell on her second run, her performances in the other two rounds were good enough to snatch the gold.
“It’s so exciting. This has been a dream of mine,” Kim said.
But it is not just her prowess on a snowboard that has made her such a celebrity. She has a huge following on social media and a tweet in qualifying went viral when she announced she wanted an ice cream.
In the news conference following her gold medal run, Kim turned the subject back to food. “I’m so hungry,” she said. “I really want a burger or fries or maybe some pizza.”
Kim’s easy charm has generated a Twitter frenzy with thousands of people congratulating her after the gold medal run.
But behind the glamor and glitz of her newfound stardom was the sacrifice her father made when she was just a toddler.
Kim Jong-jin had encouraged his daughter to get on a snowboard when she was just four. Three years later, he gave up his job as an engineer to focus on Kim’s budding sporting career.
And what a career it has been so far. Despite her tender years, she has dominated the sport, becoming the youngest person to win three X Games gold medals.
Then, at 15 she became the first female snowboarder to land back-to-back 1080 degree spins in competition, a trick she repeated on her third run in Pyeongchang. Now, she is the youngest female snowboarder to win an Olympic gold.
Standing alongside her father, mother and grandmother, she paid tribute to her family after producing the near-perfect score of 98.25 out of 100.
“My dad has definitely sacrificed a lot and I don’t know if I could have done that it,” she told the media. “Leaving your life behind and chasing this dream because your kid is passionate about this sport. I think today I did it for my family and I am so grateful to them.”
Her father, who stood at the back of the media conference with a huge smile on his face, did not cry, Chloe admitted, which had surprised her.
“I hate talking about my dad when he is here because he gets really cocky,” she laughed. “I am going to be hearing it for three more years: remember when you talked about me in your press conference?”
Kim senior, who said he was lucky enough to be financially secure before he quit work, was happy to retell his daughter’s story. But like any parent, he was intensely nervous before the competition started.
“I was nervous before the first run because, even though everyone talks about Chloe all the time, nobody knows the result – maybe she will fall three times,” he said. “After she landed the first run I could then just enjoy the rest of the day.”
So, could the family’s young snowboarding prodigy and her army of new South Korean fans.
– with Reuters and AFP