On the morning his teenage daughter flipped and McTwisted her way to a gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games — and thereby cemented her status as America’s newest superstar of the PyeongChang Olympics — Kim Jong Jin, father of halfpipe snowboarding champion Chloe Kim, sent her a text message.
Kim immigrated to the United States from South Korea and Chloe, 17, was born in 2000 — the Year of the Dragon in the Chinese zodiac. According to Korean fable, it can take 1,000 years for an imugi — a mythological snake — to morph into a fully fledged dragon. Kim first took Chloe snowboarding when she was 4-years-old, when the family lived in Torrance, Calif. He later quit his engineering job to support Chloe’s pursuit of the sport.
Today, Kim told Chloe before she dropped into the pipe, is the day the imugi turns into that dragon.
Dad was right. With her extended family — five South Korean relatives, including her 75-year-old grandmother, who has never seen her compete, an aunt from Switzerland, plus mom, dad, and and her two sisters — holding “Go Chloe Kim!” signs at the bottom of the hill, the 17-year-old won the Olympic gold medal in the halfpipe competition at the Phoenix Snow Park Tuesday morning, overwhelming her opponents with a stunning aerial display.
She dropped the hammer in her first run. With the Lady Gaga song “Paparazzi” playing in her earbuds, Kim scored a 93.75, which was more than eight points higher than the second-place rider, eventual silver medalist Liu Jiayu of China. Chloe quickly set a standard that no one would catch.
After sticking that first landing, she hugged her family cheering section. “Okay, don’t cry,” she said as they swarmed her.
Though each rider had two more chances to top her, the rest of the day felt like a coronation. The young rider slipped in her second run, but no one could pass her. When Liu scored an 89.75 in her last attempt, the gold became official. The Kims mobbed each other. American Arielle Gold took bronze, while Kelly Clark, the veteran American who won halfpipe gold 16 years ago, finished just off the podium in fourth.
Team USA has now swept all three of the snowboard golds at the PyeongChang Games: Red Gerard and Jamie Anderson won men’s and women’s slopestyle events the previous two days. Shaun White notched the top score during the qualifying round of the men’s halfpipe event on Wednesday. He’ll try to make it four in a row for snowboard on Thursday morning South Korea time.
Though already the gold medalist, Chloe Kim still had one run to go. She could have sauntered down the pipe, taking a victory lap. Instead she went huge, unleashing back-to-back 1080s — that’s three full revolutions in the air per trick. Back in 2016, she became the first female athlete to land this difficult maneuver in an international competition. She was 15. Now, she’s the first woman to do it in the Olympics. She’s also the youngest woman to win the Olympic halfpipe. She scored a 98.25 in her third run, nearly 10 points ahead of silver medalist Jiayu.
Why risk injury when you’ve already won? Snowboarders are wired to show off. “I wasn’t going to be completely satisfied taking home the gold, knowing I could have done better,” she says. She also dedicated her performance to grandma. “I can’t wait to go shopping with her,” she says.
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She arrived at these 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea to unfathomable expectations. Local media mobbed the American snowboarder as she arrived here last week for the Olympic halfpipe competition. Officials exited her from the airport discreetly, to avoid the pack. The pressure from the fans in South Korea, and those back home, would be enough to crush most high school seniors. Yet Kim knew the stakes—and she was determined to deliver. “It’s the freaking Olympics,” Kim told TIME during an interview before the Games. “I’ve got to nail it.”
She fiddled on her phone as a distraction. Between the second and third runs of the final, she tweeted she was “hangry” — hungry and angry — since she failed to finish of a breakfast sandwich.
During the Monday qualifiers, she tweeted about her craving for a snack. “Could be down for some ice cream,” the teenage boarder wrote. She also shared her secret to staying calm. “Oh and I also had 2 churros today and they were pretty bomb so if you ever get nervous go eat a churro.” Naturally.
Besides fried dough, how did she cope with expectations? “I don’t really think about it as pressure,” she says. “I always try to see it in positive way, like, you know what, the people that are expecting so much about of me, know I can do it and believe in me. So I just kind of think about it like that. And it makes me feel a little better.” She’s most calm when she’s in the pipe, doing death-defying tricks that astound her audience. “I don’t feel that much fear.”
It shows. After his daughter’s victory became official, Kim senior raced from one end of the halfpipe venue to the other, looking for Chloe so they could embrace. He thought back to those early days in Southern California, when he took little Chloe to the mountain because he wanted his wife, Boran Yun Kim, to go snowboarding with him. “She was what they call they decoy,” he says.
About a dozen years later, the Kims are living this wondrous moment. “The American dream,” says Kim, pumping his fists. “Woooo!” Finally he found his daughter. The dragon, arms around her family, stood smiling in the snow.