BONGPYEONG, South Korea – Pyeongchang Halfpipe hosted the coronation of an American Olympic darling late Tuesday morning, witnessing the dazzling, gold medal performance of 17-year-old Chloe Kim, an acrobatic performer of Korean heritage and California cool destined to become an even bigger star than she already is.
Kim entered these Olympics as an overwhelming favorite in women's halfpipe, with many snowboard enthusiasts convinced she could have won gold four years ago, at age 13, had she not been too young to compete in Sochi. She met, and perhaps even surpassed, the monumental expectations, taking the United States' third gold medal of the Games, all of which have been won in snowboarding.
The starburst Kim experienced both in the run-up to the Games and over the past two days occurred for multiple reasons. Her parents were born in South Korea and many members of her extended family still live here, which made her an attraction both back home and in the host nation. It also provided Kim with a unique, comforting experience in her first Olympics.
"You know, I think it'll be a really fun experience to go through as a family," Kim said after qualifying for the final Monday. "And I think everyone's really happy, and I think this is the best scenario ever. At the end of the day, I'm so grateful that I get to be out here and represent the U.S. in the country that my family came from. It's a very big blessing."
Despite her admission to nerves, Kim carried herself with an easygoing personality and acted very much like the Californian teenager she is. Kim tweeted about jonesing for ice cream Monday afternoon – between qualification rounds, in which she produced, by far, the two highest-scored runs of the day. After her first run Tuesday, a flawless 93.75 that put her in first place by a whopping 8.25 points, Kim covered her mouth with both hands, as if she could not believe what she had done, as if she had not long ago made the incredible routine.
Kim had the gold wrapped up, and she still sent it. She pulled off back-to-back 1080s and bettered her first run with a 98.25.
But it's Kim's athletic charisma and jaw-dropping talent that makes her most appealing. Even to a broad audience with scant snowboarding knowledge, her surpassing ability is obvious. She achieves more amplitude on her jumps, packs in more spins and flips, and lands her board back on the ground like a feather.
At age 17, Kim carried more expectations into these Games than perhaps any American athlete. On a sparkling, sun-splashed morning, she delivered.
Arielle Gold, a 22-year-old who snuck into the 12-rider finals with a 12th-place qualifying run, stole the bronze medal with a tremendous final run, improving on her previous best run by more than 10 points with an 85.75. Gold qualified for the Sochi Games but never competed four years ago, after separating her shoulder in a practice run.
Kelly Clark, a five-time Olympian regarded as the greatest snowboarder ever, followed Gold with her best run of the contest, an 83.5 that left her just shy of her fourth Olympic podium.