The 2022 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony kicks off February 3rd, and SportsEngine is spotlighting the reigning and emerging stars for Team USA. You'll learn about their journey to become one of the nation's — and world's — best. Check out the first installment, with six insights on Chloe Kim, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and six-time X Games gold medalist. Kim is among the headliners for the U.S. team, becoming the first to win the World, Olympic, Youth Olympic and X Games championships in the halfpipe. Oh, and she's just 21 years old!
1. Chloe started snowboarding at the age of four.
Chloe Kim was born in Long Beach, California, and raised in nearby Torrance. Her parents immigrated from South Korea, and she first started snowboarding at the age of four, alongside her father Jong Jin. Quickly, though, Chloe's father recognized her immense potential. By age six, Chloe earned three bronze medals at a snowboarding competition. "Watching her at a young age was like watching Shaun White," Tommy Czeschin, a former coach with U.S. Snowboarding, told Bleacher Report. "She was leaps and bounds better than anyone her age, her height, anyone she would ride with." Chloe moved to Geneva to live with an aunt and train in Europe for a few years, then returned to the U.S. To ensure she got elite coaching in California, Jong Jin would drive her five hours, one way, to Mammoth five days a week. “She works really, really, really hard,” Benjamin Wisner, Chloe's first coach, said. “That’s how she’s gotten to where she is, by putting in the hard work.” Her breakout performance occurred at the U.S. Grand Prix Finals–when she was the top qualifier. She was 13 years old. Talented enough to compete at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Chloe was not eligible because the Olympics bars any competitor under the age of 15. Wisner and Jong Jin were on the same page. As Wisner said, they were in no rush for success.
2. Her inner circle doesn’t put pressure on her.
Chloe earned a silver medal in the superpipe behind Kelly Clark in 2014. The following year, she topped Clark and won the gold medal at the Winter X Games. Those in her inner circle refusing to put pressure on Chloe paid off at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in Korea. She had a dramatic finish just two weeks earlier at the X Games, but she scored 93.75 out of 100 on her first run at the Olympics. She had trouble with her second run, and no one had challenged her first-run score. But Chloe wanted to do her best for herself. "I knew if I went home with a gold medal knowing I could do better, I wouldn't be very satisfied," Kim said, according to ESPN. "I wanted to do the back-to-back 10s. I wanted to go bigger. That third run was for me to prove to myself that I did it, so I could go home and be happy with myself." Her coach, Ricky Bower, also told her, "You've got nothing to lose. Try to get a perfect score at the Olympics." She earned a 98.25! After winning the gold medal, Chloe said it was the "best outcome I could have asked for. This has been a long journey."
3. She’s known for her mental toughness.
One of Chloe's strengths is her mental toughness, something both her coaches noted. "I'd say the nerves were there, but she thrives in that situation," Wisner told ESPN. "I think every athlete gets nervous. But Chloe has a great attitude and a pretty strong mental game. She's a great competitor. She can relax even in nervous situations. I'm sure there was some nerves, but she just loves to snowboard, and she loves riding in front of a crowd." Bower, the U.S. Snowboard head halfpipe coach, told Bleacher Report, "She looks so relaxed, carries a ton of speed and makes it look pretty easy."
4. Chloe controls her own story.
Being the most dominant in a popular winter sport has come with a lot of attention, awards, and accolades, most notably Chloe being named one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People of 2018. She's also appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the show The Masked Singer, and was featured on a special edition of Corn Flakes, which ended up being the fastest-selling real box in Kellogg's history. She also has a "Shero" Barbie doll in her likeness. But she told the New York Times in December 2021 that sentiments about her are changing. “When I was 13, and I was up and coming and I was doing really well in events, it was like everyone was on my side,” she said. “Like, ‘Go, Chloe!’ and ‘Good job, Chloe, look at you go!’ Then after I won, the energy completely changed, and I was embarrassed to win contests. I knew that if I did well again, people would dump on me.” She shared with the Times how she was accidentally sent a message via Instagram that spoke negatively about her. “I just felt like everyone is out to get me or something,” Kim said. “So I was like, OK, if I’m going to be the villain in the story, then I don’t know if I want to do it. It’s just not fun.”
5. She’s a comeback kid.
After breaking her ankle in early 2019, Chloe did not get on a snowboard for 22 months, something that she said was a positive, in retrospect. She attended Princeton University, an elite academic institution, and she focused on friends, family, dogs and horses. When she returned, she surrounded herself with people and things that reciprocate love, regardless of snowboarding success: dogs, horses, a boyfriend, new school friends, family. In December, at Copper Mountain in the first event of the Olympic season, Chloe was in seventh place after falls on her first two runs. But on her third, she scored a 96.00, edging out Spain’s Queralt Castellet and China’s Xuetong Cai for the gold medal. “That was so stressful. I hate when I’m in that situation when it comes to the third and final run,” Kim said, according to The Guardian.
6. She’s ready to defend her title.
Chloe told the Associated Press that she's been more anxious because of COVID, and she also told the Times that she was worried for the safety of her parents, given the increased attacks against Asian-Americans in the United States. There are new competitors who aim to deny her defense of the Olympic title, yet Chloe remains the only female to land back-to-back 1080-degree jumps in a competition. Asked by the AP what she's got in store for the Olympics, Chloe said, "I definitely won’t be telling anyone. You just have to tune in and see it. But the most important thing is, we’re all having fun out here.”