Chloe Kim secured the gold medal in the women’s halfpipe with her very first run at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Thursday—and made history in the process.
Kim’s score of 94.00 put her in the top spot at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou. She remained there for the rest of the competition. That didn’t stop her from pushing even harder on her final two runs.
The 21-year-old’s win makes her the first woman to take back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the snowboard halfpipe.
Kim, the reigning women’s snowboard halfpipe Olympic champion, came to the 2022 Winter Games as the overwhelming favorite to win gold. Yet Kim had no plans to rest on her laurels. She told TIME in an Olympics cover profile that she was planning to “go off” and had three new tricks to unveil.
She used her next two runs to attempt a land a 1260 trick, three and a half turns in the air—a feat never accomplished by a female snowboarder in competition—but was unable to put it down.
Kim fell on her second run, and a spill by Japan’s Ono Mitsuki ahead of Kim’s third run meant that she had secured gold before her final run. But, Kim still went for it.
Despite her gold medal win, Kim appeared just a little disappointed with her performance. “I hit my face so hard,” she could be heard saying after her third run.
Eileen Gu, the American-born free skier competing for China, who is wildly popular in the country, was there to support Kim. The athletes were seen hugging after Kim’s second run fall, and Gu could be heard encouraging her. “You’ll get it on your next one!” she said.
Queralt Castellet of Spain took the silver, and Japan’s Tomita Sena won bronze. The distance between Kim and her closest competitor was a full 4.25 points.
Kim’s second Olympic gold is just another step on her incredible journey from child halfpipe prodigy to the world’s top female snowboarder.
Kim, whose parents were born in South Korea, was raised in Torrance, Calif., and she took up snowboarding at age 4, tagging along with her dad on trips to the slopes at Mammoth Mountain. It took a few more years—and a trip across the ocean—for Kim to truly fall in love with snowboarding. When she was 8, she spent two years living with an aunt in Geneva, Switzerland. She won a junior competition in Switzerland and never looked back. She started working with the U.S. national team at 13. She was that same age when she won her first major medal, a silver in the halfpipe competition at the 2014 X Games.
Kim would have made the U.S. team at the 2014 Winter Olympics, but she didn’t meet the minimum age requirement. Four years later at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, Kim became the youngest female Olympic gold medalist in snowboarding history. At the Games, the then-17 year old became the first woman to land back-to-back 1080s—three full rotations in the air—at an Olympics—and that was after she had already clinched the gold medal.
Kim continued her trailblazing tricks when a few months after the Games, she became the first woman to land a front-side double cork 1080—an aerial rotation done twice—in a halfpipe. She was named Female Athlete of the Year at the 2018 ESPY Awards and used her platform to speak out against anti-Asian racism. After years of competition, Kim needed a break. “I was so burnt out, I just couldn’t do it anymore,” Kim previously told TIME. “I felt a little lost. I was in a pretty low, dark place.”
So Kim decided to take a break from snowboarding and go to college, hoping to experience a normal teenage life. She enrolled at Princeton University in the fall of 2019. But when the pandemic shut down campus in March 2020, Kim returned to the snow. But that time away from the halfpipe allowed her to enter Beijing with a healthy perspective. Kim told TIME last year: “I guess I would tell my younger self that even though things get hard and people are mean to you or whatever, it’ll get better and you’re going to realize that you have so much good happening in your life, that the bad isn’t going to hurt you.”
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