She’s got the weight of two different countries on her shoulders – and she can’t stop smiling.
Chloe Kim, the energetic 17-year-old from California, is a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from South Korea and, now, she’s got her sights set on winning gold for America in South Korea. Kim is the favorite in the halfpipe, an unprecedented talent whose seems to notch a record every time she steps onto her board.
Here’s everything you need to know about the phenom:
1. Kim Started Snowboarding When She Was Four Years Old
She’s been dubbed “The Future of Women’s Snowboarding” for as long as she can remember and for good reason – Kim has been on a board for as long as she can remember. She first started snowboarding when she was just four years old, learning with her father at a local resort in her hometown of Mountain High, Colorado.
It didn’t take long for Kim to realize she wanted to compete. In fact, Kim was only six years old when she competed in her first event as part of Team Mountain High and things, simply, continued from there.
Kim, who is making her Olympic debut at PyeongChang, has been a force on the international circuit for years now. It was the 2015-16 season, however, that catapult her, officially, to snowboarding superstardom. Kim captured her second and third gold medals at the Winter X Games and, after earning silver in 2014, became the only athlete in the history of the games to win three gold medals before the age of 16 in the history of the Games. She also won gold at the Winter Youth Olympic Games, and earned the highest snowboarding score in Youth Olympic Games history at the time.
2. Her Parents Encouraged Her Career
Kim has been such a dominant presence in snowboarding for so long that it’s almost difficult to imagine a time where she didn’t feel particularly confident. It happened, though, and when Kim was first learning the sport both she and her parents were learning on the fly.
She first started training with the help of her father, Jong Jin Kim, but Kim is the first to admit that neither one of them knew quite what to expect. “We both had no idea what we were doing,” she told The New York Times. Kim’s father came to the United States from South Korea in 1982 and the chance to compete at her first Olympics in PyeongChang is a major moment for, not only Kim, but her entire family. She told CNN:
It’s very special. I feel like I have this unique opportunity to represent both Korea and the US. 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 US in the country that my family came from. It’s a very big blessing.
Kim will have plenty of family and friends supporting her, both at the Games and stateside. Her grandmother still lives in South Korea and several aunts and cousins live there as well, but, if she’s being honest with herself, Kim is competing for her parents as much as herself and the belief that’s never wavered, even when they didn’t know what they were doing.
3. Kim Was the First Female Snowboarder to Land Back-to-Back 1080 Degree Spins
What were you doing when you were 15? Because Kim was making history.
Less than a week after she became the first person, under the age of 16, to win back-to-back gold medals at the X Games, Kim notched her name in the history books again, becoming the first woman to land back-to-back 1080 spins in a snowboarding competition.
Not bad for a kid who couldn’t drive yet.
Kim landed the tricks during the women’s halfpipe event at the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix in Park City in February, 2016. It earned her a perfect score of 100 on a “victory lap” because, of course, she’d notched a 96.5-point run earlier in the day that had already cemented her first-place finish.
It was the first time an athlete had notched a perfect score since Shaun White did the same at the 2012 Winter X Games.
4. She Was Home-Schooled & Finished High School Early
Kim isn’t always on her board.
When she isn’t competing and, more likely than not, winning, Kim is an almost-normal 17-year-old who still has to go to high school. She studied at Mammoth High School where, according to her Team USA biography, Kim studied through the Independent Learning Center.
It wasn’t always, easy, however, and Kim is the first to admit that home-schooling was, sometimes, a lonely process, even if it meant she could compete more often.
“Being in a class with kids, meeting new people and borrowing notes from other students, I’ve never done that before,” Kim told USA Today. “I’ve always had to fend for myself.”
Although she was, mostly, ambivalent about college, Kim’s parents pushed her to stay focused on her studies and, after taking the SATs and finishing high school early, the snowboard phenom has got her sights set on a new challenge after the Olympic Games – a degree.
5. Kim Tweeted About Ice Cream During the Qualifying Competition at PyeongChang
Any time is a good time for ice cream – even in the middle of Olympic competition.
Kim made headlines on February 12 when, in the middle of the qualifying rounds of halfpipe competition, she sent out this tweet:
The first response to the tweet was exactly what you’d expect, “Aren’t you competing right now?” Kim was quick to respond:
At least she was honest and, of course, dominant on the halfpipe. Kim posted scores of 91.50 and, after her now-famous tweet, notched a 95.50 in her qualifying runs, far and away the best score of the night. No word on whether or not Kim actually got any ice cream after the performance, but NBC Olympics did its best to help her out: