Sports

Inside Chloe Kim’s gold-winning day in women’s halfpipe

Chloe Kim wrapped herself in an American flag after taking the gold medal in the women’s halfpipe.
Loic Venace/AFP/Getty Images
Chloe Kim wrapped herself in an American flag after taking the gold medal in the women’s halfpipe.

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Chloe Kim woke up miserable the morning she won gold.

Her alarm went off at 6. She wanted to go back to sleep.

She ate a few bites of a cold breakfast sandwich but didn’t finish it, and a clementine. She had an hour to get ready before boarding a 7 o’clock bus to Phoenix Snow Park.

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She arrived to fresh snow on the pipe, which made it slower than in her practice runs. The pipe was bumpy in the flat bottom, so she had to determine how to navigate that without letting it slow her down. After all, you need good edge control for speed and you need speed for amplitude.

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“I kind of consider myself a genius sometimes for thinking so much about that,” the 17-year-old American said.

The finals began at 10 a.m. local time, and Kim started 12th, the last competitor to go in each of three final runs. When it came time for her first run, she chose to ride with “Paparazzi” by Lady Gaga playing in her headphones (“Pretty good song,” Kim said) and put down a run that no one would top — except herself. Although Kim fell on her second run, she got good news after she got to the bottom of the pipe: Her grandmother was there to watch her compete for the first time. “This one’s for Grams,” Kim told herself before heading back to the top of the pipe.

But the consequences of not finishing that breakfast sandwich started to play out; she was “hangry” and tweeted as such, the second mid-competition food tweet in as many days. (During qualifiers, Kim declared that she was craving ice cream.)

“I don’t know, I mean, like what else am I supposed to do?” she said, her relaxed demeanor laced with silliness.

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Watching the 11 competitors in front of her made Kim nervous and anxious. It was just a waiting game before she could ride down the pipe for the final time.

“It’s like when you’re supposed to go to the theme park and your parents are taking forever to get ready, and you’re just waiting there,” Kim said. “It’s just like, what are you supposed to do with yourself? So I was just on social media, and I just tweeted my feelings.”

Jiayu Liu of China was the last competitor to go before Kim. She had thrown down an 89.75 in the second run and had pieced together a run on the third try that was poised to top her previous score. But she fell on her final trick. And the gold medal was Kim’s, before she even took her final run. She hugged her teammates. She hugged her coaches.

“But I was like, ‘Just don’t tell me because like I don’t want to start crying. I have another run to do,’ ” she said. “I wanted to land a good [run]. I’d hate to go home with the gold medal knowing that I could’ve done better. I think that third run was just for myself.”

Kim proceeded to play “MotorSport” by Migos in her headphones (“ ‘MotorSport’ is more like rap-ish, but you know what? It did the trick. I’ll take it,” she said) and put down this combination of tricks: a method, frontside 1080 into a cab 1080, frontside 900, McTwist, crippler 720, landing every one. The result was near-perfect: a 98.25.

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“We always want to one-up ourselves no matter what,” Kim said of her victory lap. “At the end of the day it’s all about snowboarding, it’s not about how many points you have or where you’re at on the list. You want to push yourself, and that’s the best way to do it.”

Kim draped an American flag over her shoulders in the finish area. She embraced teammate Arielle Gold, 21, who earned bronze and is a close friend. She took her place on the podium for the event ceremony, wiping away tears as she held a mini stuffed animal of the PyeongChang Olympics mascot, Soohorang. “I hate crying but I’ll give myself a pass for this one,” she tweeted later.

Kim’s mother, Boran Yun Kim, and sister were crying, her sister’s tears getting in Chloe’s hair. “I was just like, ‘Please stop.’ ” Kim’s father, Jong Jin Kim, proudly held up a laminated white poster that read “Go Chloe!” with a pink heart, and shared an embrace with Gold’s father. The sign was made by kids and staff members at Mountain High in Wrightwood, Calif., where Kim learned how to snowboard. “So my dad kind of held it up for them to see and for them to know that we’re thinking of them and we really appreciate the sign,” Kim said.

But Jong Jin, who quit his engineering job 10 years ago to help Chloe pursue snowboarding, did not cry, much to Chloe’s confusion. “Which I don’t get at all,” she said with a laugh. But he did have a couple of celebratory beers. “My dad always likes a couple beers, you know? Crackin’ a cold one with the boys,” Chloe said in her jovial tone.

Kim was escorted through the media area, holding a small container of ice cream, and then whisked into a news conference room behind the venue’s grandstand. She spent 35 minutes fielding questions about her slashy victory, about her parents (who sat in the back of the room), about what she planned to eat next (“You know, honestly I’ll eat anything at this point,” she said), about her social media, about the growing cloud of attention around her, which will likely balloon even bigger in the coming weeks and months. Her followers on Instagram have increased to more than 300,000 from about 164,000 since the start of the Games.

“My mom and I are always talking about followers, like, ‘Oh my God,’ ” she said. “My mom’s like, ‘Post a picture of me so I can get more followers.’ I’m like, ‘OK, I got you.’ She’s like, ‘Comment on my photo, like it.’ I’m like, ‘OK, Mom.’ We definitely have a lot of fun with it, but there definitely is a lot happening. I got a little overwhelmed afterwards, but I’m just really excited.”

From there, Kim fulfilled other media and sponsor obligations, and most importantly, finally got to eat a meal: pizza and a latte. “I’m feeling good, ready to go,” she said at her medal news conference, which started at 5:15 p.m. local time.

Kim talked about how honored she is to be a part of a sport that is progressing at such a fast rate. She and Gold, who was also at the news conference, razzed each other over whether Gold’s five straight wins over Kim in pool at the tables in the Athletes’ Village actually count.

“OK, I scratched every time on the eight-ball, so let’s not go that far,” Kim said.

“I count it,” Gold shot back.

“I still get bummed out when I try really hard in pool and you have to make me feel that much worse about it,” Kim said a few minutes later.

“Gotta check the ego sometimes,” Gold replied, to a roomful of laughs.

It came back to whether Kim is prepared for a level of attention beyond anything she has experienced and if she has gotten advice from teammates about what to expect.

“She’s mature beyond her years,” said Gold, a two-time Olympian. “She didn’t need me to tell her anything. I think she’s more prepared than most people thought she was.”

“Kelly [Clark] did tell me it’s pretty hectic if you medal, so I’m kind of bracing myself,” said Kim, who later that night finally got to hold her shiny new hardware in her hands for the first time.

And how’s it been so far?

“Pretty hectic,” she said, just a handful of hours after winning.