(CBS)–American Chloe Kim wins gold medal in women’s halfpipe.
She’s the snowboarder who describes herself as “The California girl that went to the Olympics.”
It’s perfect, easy, and oh-so-fitting for the 17-year-old from Torrance, California, who loves music and the mall almost as much as she loves stomping her runs – and the competition – in the halfpipe.
But Kim, whether it’s fair or not, has come to represent more than that for these Olympics.
Her parents are from South Korea. Among the handful of relatives who live there is Chloe’s grandma, who has been known to brag about her high-flying granddaughter if, say, she’s out to tea with her friends and a picture of Chloe happens to appear in the newspaper, which happens fairly often.
“They’ve never seen me compete before,” Chloe said before the games began. “I’m excited to have them there.”
Though it’s tempting to turn Kim’s story into a bigger narrative about a lifelong wish to win a gold medal in her family’s country, that narrative is not the right one.
She admits to not having all that much more familiarity with South Korea than the average 17-year-old American kid.
Kim was so good at age 13, she might have won the Sochi Olympics had she been old enough . But with the Olympics not allowing anyone in under 15, she did not make the cut. And though her father sacrificed much time, effort and sleep to further Chloe’s career, the thought of doing it so his daughter could make her first Olympic splash in his native country was never part of the equation.
“When we started, Korea was not declared as hosting the Olympics,” Jong Jin Kim said. “I thought I had a chance to bring her to the Olympics, so it was amazing and very lucky that they matched together.”
Jong Jin Kim moved to the United States in 1982 to pursue his engineering degree. He met his wife, Boran, in Switzerland. Chloe, the youngest of three sisters, was born in 2000, and when she turned 4, Jong Jin bought her a snowboard on eBay and dragged her onto the mountain, in part because he wanted his wife to come along, too. Chloe took lessons, and by the time she was 7, she was winning contests. By the time she was 8, she was living in Switzerland with her aunt, and was regularly waking up at 4 a.m. for long train rides to the mountain.
“Crazy. Quite a mission,” Chloe recalled.
At age 10, Chloe was back in California, and her folks were rearranging both her and their lives with the thought she might become a professional snowboarder. Home-schooling and 2 a.m. wake-up calls became routine. In 2014, a month before the Olympics she could not attend, she took her first Winter X Games medal – a silver. She won her first Winter X Games the next year.
What separates her from the pack on the halfpipe is her ability to do back-to-back 1080-degree jumps. She first pulled that off at a contest in 2016.
“She rides longer than anyone, takes more runs than anyone. For me, that’s been a core value to my snowboarding,” Kelly Clark said. “Talent can get you only so far. It’s about putting in that hard work and extra effort that makes a difference.”