When American snowboarder Chloe Kim finished her first run of the halfpipe final Thursday morning (Wednesday night in Boston), she kneeled at the bottom of the course in disbelief.
“Oh my god,” she repeated, catching her breath. “Oh my god.”
Kim had just strung together a wildly impressive showing, complete with a huge method air, a frontside 1080, a switch 900, a switch backside 540, and another 1080. Her combination of tricks carried a high degree of difficulty, but Kim, the defending Olympic gold medalist, nailed it.
Judges awarded her a score of 94, which easily vaulted her to the top of the standings. Only two of the other 11 snowboarders had eclipsed 80 points in their first go-arounds.
Kim, who attempted her first run last because she recorded the best score in the qualifying round, had essentially already secured the gold medal. At the very least, the pressure intensified tenfold for the rest of the field. Overtaking Kim would require near perfection.
As the round of second runs began, a teary Kim embraced her coach Rick Bower.
“That was like the best I’ve done it,” she told Bower.
The pair celebrated her stellar performance, yet remained forward-thinking.
“Now,” Bower said, before adding a pointed inflection. “Nowwww.”
Kim smiled and laughed. She knew exactly what her coach was referencing: Kim was preparing to attempt a 1260 — three and a half rotations in the air — a trick that no female snowboarder has ever landed in the halfpipe competition. According to Bower, Kim has previously landed both a frontside 1260 and a cab (backward) 1260 in practice.
When it was time for Kim’s second run, she remained in first. Spain’s Queralt Castellet drew close with a 90.25, but Kim remained untouchable.
So, she went for the 1260 and ultimately slid out. The judges awarded her a score of 27.
When it was time for Kim’s third run, she once again remained in first, which meant the gold medal was officially hers. Still, there was no victory lap. Kim once again went for the 1260 only to encounter a similar result. The judges gave her a 26.25.
But neither of her lower scores mattered. Kim’s 94 on her first run was enough. She earned Team USA’s second gold medal at the 2022 Winter Games and became the first female snowboarder to win back-to-back golds in the halfpipe. Castellet earned silver, while Japan’s Sena Tomita earned bronze.
Even though she didn’t land either of her 1260s, Kim expressed no regrets about attempting them.
“My butt hurts,” she said, with a laugh. “But it was worth it, for sure. One thousand percent. That’s what keeps me going. I wish I’d landed it, but next time.”
Kim’s decisions to go for the 1260 on her second and, especially, her third run demonstrated her drive, talent, and importance to the sport. She could have cruised and played it safe. She could have strung together back-to-back 1080s — the sequence that helped her win the gold medal at the 2018 Winter Games — which is no simple feat in itself.
Instead, she decided to go even bigger.
“I’m honestly super proud of myself for just going out there and even trying to do it,” she said on the NBC broadcast. “It’s a very new trick. I’m really looking forward to being able to land it. Maybe at the next one.”
Castellet, who is 11 years older than Kim and competing in her fifth Olympics, acknowledged Kim’s prominent role in “the progression happening in snowboarding.”
“It’s amazing to be a part of, especially at the moment when we have people like Chloe pushing the boundaries,” she said. “It’s amazing to see. Eight to 10 years ago, we wouldn’t think that [that trick] was even possible.”
Kim’s efforts on her final two runs are perhaps even more commendable, given her comments about her mental state at the time. Following her first run of Thursday’s final, Kim told Bower that she initially was “so scared” because she was not pleased with her performance in an earlier practice.
“I had the worst practice, ever,” she explained later. “I probably landed my run twice when I’m used to landing it eight times, normally. That puts you in a weird headspace. It felt so inconsistent.”
The fact that Kim still executed her first run elated her — and she didn’t stop there.
“I overflowed with emotion when I was able to land it on the first go,” she said. “It opened up a lot of opportunity for me to go try something new.”
Kim said Thursday she doesn’t know how many more Olympics she plans to compete in. If she’s in the mix at the 2026 Winter Games in Milan, however, the 1260, and perhaps more, will likely be part of her repertoire.
“It’s such an honor to be part of this sport and help progress women’s halfpipe snowboarding,” Kim said.