Pyeongchang, South Korea • Get her some ice cream, a breakfast sandwich, a slice of pizza. Open up the damn menu. Anything she wants. Olympic champions get their due, and perhaps no one at these 2018 Pyeongchang Games delivered under more pressure than this 17-year-old from Southern California.
It’s one thing to deliver gold when you’re supposed to, when the whole field is always looking up at you as you’re going higher, spinning better, flipping with more force than any one else wants. But Chloe Kim stomped runs with the weight of not one, but two countries counting on a gold medal when she came to a stop at the bottom of the snowboard halfpipe at Phoenix Snow Park on Tuesday morning.
So she stood in front of the camera, holding out the American flag as high and wide as she can over her shoulders. In the crowd were parents Jong Jin and Boran Kim, South Korean immigrants who left this country decades ago. Technically it’s an American gold, but also for the Korean people, who have taken to this teenager who admits when she’s on the road, she craves Chipotle and KFC on the regular.
The South Korean media here runs Kim clips on TV news broadcasts daily. She’s the 5-foot-3 blur in the air with bleached hair, otherworldly talent in the pipe, and who in the past two days captivated the world by live-tweeting in-between qualifying event and her eventual gold-medal run. Even on the mountain in freezing temperatures, Kim tweeted: “Could be down for some ice ream rn [right now].”
Before she got to take a victory lap, the gold medal the snowboarding world long expected her to grab already in hand, she posted that she was hangry. She chose not to finish her breakfast sandwich this morning. She realized it was a misstep.
It was the only one she’s had here in South Korea.
Marketed heavily by NBC entering these Games, the world finally got to know this superstar in the No. 1 bib. During her the medal runs alone on Tuesday, Kim gained more than 100,000 new Twitter followers, the website reported. She entered with 15,000 and the number continues to steadily climb.
Her final run of 98.25 drove home the level of her brilliance.
“I was like tearing up and wanted to cry,” she said, “but I just knew I wasn’t going to be happy, even if I went home with the gold, if I knew I could do better. So that third run was really just to prove to myself that I deserved it and did everything I could. I’m so happy.”
She could’ve been here on this stage four years ago, when she was dominating the sport before she could get behind a wheel of a car. At 14, she won Winter X Games gold in the pipe. The next year in 2016, she won two X Games golds and made history at a Grand Prix event in Park City landing back-to-back 1080s. It was a 100 — the first time a female snowboarder had ever accomplished either.
In the pipe here Tuesday, Kim didn’t get the back-to-back 1080s down early on. Even after the gold was guaranteed, she felt like she had to prove it to herself.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to feel as satisfied if I didn’t land that,” she said. “Even if it was a gold medal, I didn’t want to go home knowing that I could have done better, so when I landed I was so excited. I feel so much more satisfied, and I’m so much more proud.”
There’s no tension like Olympic tension, and there’s no heartbreak like Olympic heartbreak. If Kim, far-and-away the frontrunner, the gold medalist all-but-guaranteed, had come up short, she would’ve faced four long years of questions of what went wrong. But she did not buckle. She did not blink. She fulfilled this destiny set out by herself and her parents long ago.
Last fall at the Olympic Media Summit in Park City, Kim said she proudly took this unique path. Korean culture, she said, tends to push teenagers toward the stability of careers like law or medicine. Thanks to her dad, who snowboarded with his daughter, she’s here now.
“It means a lot just being able to do it where my family is from,” she said. “A lot of pressure, but I’m happy I was able to do it here and do it for the fans and the family.”
All bundled up at the bottom of the run, Jong Jin Kim held up a large white laminated sign. In full dad mode, it was simple and tender. “Go Chloe!” it read with a large pink heart placed just above exclamation mark. He left Korea in 1982, where he eventually settled in Torrance, Calif., enrolled at a community college before, working night jobs and attending school by day. So off Chloe Kim went, all the way down the halfpipe, doing what she’s always done en route to the gold medal that was always assured to be hers.
In the lead up to the Games in her parent’s home country, Chloe and Jong Jin were showcased in a minute-long commercial that aired on Super Bowl Sunday. It told their story, of Chloe dropping into the pipe with Jong Jin never too far away. It showed them breaking down video back on the couch. It showed Chloe do what no one else can come close to doing. Tuesday reminded everyone of the widening gap.
Looped in during the minute-long commercial was Ray Charles’ famous rendition of “America the Beautiful.” And at the bottom of the pipe, after his daughter won gold, Jong Jin said: “American dream.” Made official in Korea.