Chloe Kim did it again, soaring to another Olympic gold medal in the halfpipe.
Just like she did four years ago, she opened the competition on Thursday with a score that no one could beat. Kim knew it too. When she got to the bottom of her first run, she put her hands on her head, fell to her knees in joy and laughed, as if she had shocked herself.
The performance came after an unusually bad warm-up, during which Kim struggled to land her main routine. Her coaches said she was battling nerves. Kim said she came to the finale “in a weird headspace.”
His outburst at the bottom was a mixture of joy and relief.
“I was like, I don’t want to feel all this pressure of not being able to land my first safety race,” she said. “So I was overflowing with emotion when I managed to land it on the first try.”
Kim received an untouchable score of 94. Queralt Castellet of Spain won the silver medal, and Sena Tomita of Japan won bronze, without seriously threatening Kim’s performance.
Kim has tried to increase the difficulty level on her last two runs, as she did four years ago. She fell both times. It didn’t matter. The contest ended almost as quickly as it had started.
“Without neglecting any of those runners, but she’s got a bag of tricks that no one else does,” Kim’s longtime trainer Rick Bower said. “And she showed it in her first race.” The win felt less like a crowning achievement for Kim, now 21, but more like a personal comeback of sorts. The lingering question as she walked away was what would happen next.
Four years ago, Kim arrived at the 2018 Olympics and landed in the arms of a warm South Korean crowd, a loving family and instant stardom. She was 17 years old. Everything seemed so easy.
The 2022 Olympic Halfpipe Final had none of that except in the pipe itself. There were no crowds due to the pandemic. His family was not present. And Kim is now 21.
It’s another era and another Kim.
The attention garnered by the latest Olympic victory and some nastiness, even in snowboarding circles, nearly drove her out of the sport. She didn’t strap on a snowboard for 22 months, went to Princeton University and bought a house. She grew up into someone more complicated than America’s snowboarding darling.
She plunged back into the Olympic cycle, somewhat reluctantly. She was still the best in the world, with few fights. Kim hadn’t competed much since returning to the circuit a year ago, which might have given her hope that she was rusty, but she had won everything she entered.
Kim has grown since she was 17 – a little more reserved, a little more independent, a little more wary of the fame that comes with every smile and near-perfect run. She said she was more prepared for the rush of attention this time.
“Now that I’ve grown a bit more and understand the limitations, and have an amazing therapist, I think it will make the journey a lot more doable for me,” she said.
She was planning to retire four years ago. Bower admitted it’s not impossible that Kim is stepping away from competitive snowboarding for good.
She turned professional at 13 and spent her adolescence in the cloistered world of snowboarding. It was too confining for Kim, who likes to fly free, has a reluctant relationship with fame and the expectations of others.
That’s why she’s spent much of her time since winning her first gold trying to become something more than a snowboarder.
For one more day, at least, she proved that no one can do better in the halfpipe. She was in charge and no one else could come near her.