There may be no greater star at the 2018 Winter Olympics than Chloe Kim, and the snowboarder is not even old enough to buy a lottery ticket. At 17, Chloe has already graced the cover of ESPN the Magazine, and was featured in a Super Bowl ad. All this and the Olympics had not even started yet where Chloe is expected to be one of the stars on the South Korean halfpipe.
She is an even bigger star in Pyeongchang thanks to her Korean heritage. Chloe comes from a South Korean family, who immigrated to the United States. Her father, Jong Jin Kim, is his daughter’s biggest fan, and quit his job to pour all his energy into his daughter. Chloe’s mother Boran Yun is equally as impressed with Chloe, just a bit more reserved than her talkative husband. Chloe may be beloved by two countries, but is no different than a typical teenager.
“Since I travel with my parents, my mom is always cooking Korean food,” Chloe told The Washington Post. “So it’s, like, I always want American food. It’s like, I need In-N-Out. We need to go to Chipotle. KFC, where are you at?”
Learn more about Chloe’s family, and their journey from South Korea.
1. Chloe’s Father Jong Immigrated to Los Angeles from South Korea With Only $800 in 1982
The story of Chloe’s family coming to the States is the kind of narrative you hear when America is referred to as the “land of opportunity.” According to ESPN, Jong came to Los Angeles in 1982 at 26 years old with $800 to his name along with a pocket English-Korean dictionary. He purchased a 1970 Nova, a carton of cigarettes, and a weeks stay at a local hotel which left him with just $100.
“I had $100 left in my pocket,” Jong told ESPN. “I went to the patio of the hotel, smoked a Kent and said to myself, ‘I start now.’”
Jong did just that as he worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant, and a cashier at a liquor store. A few years later he started college and earned a degree in manufacturing engineering technology.
2. Chloe Learned to Snowboard With Her Father When She Was 4 Years Old
Chloe started snowboarding with her father at just four years old, and she showed promise in the snow. According to ESPN, her father did not know they made snowboarding pants, and used to cut up yoga mats to stuff in her clothes so it would not hurt when Chloe fell. Jong heard wax made snowboards faster, and melted candle wax onto Chloe’s board.
“We learned how to snowboard together,” Chloe told The New York Times. “We both had no idea what we were doing.”
When he saw his daughter was taking to the sport, Jong made a bold move by quitting his engineering job to become a full-time coach for Chloe. It was a controversial decision at the time, but the move paid off as a recent NBC Super Bowl ad highlighted Jong’s dedication to his daughter.
According to The Washington Post, Chloe started home-schooling, and her father drove her more than five hours to training in LA Palma from their home in Mammoth so Chloe could have the best coaching.
“Obviously, when I was 8, I had no idea what he was doing,” Chloe told The Washington Post. “It was, like, ‘Why is Dad home more?’ You know? But now that I think about it, you know, I feel like it was a really bold move, and I can’t believe my mom was okay with it.”
3. Chloe Is Proud of Her Korean Heritage, And Feels Pressure to Perform at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics
Chloe is proud of her South Korean heritage, but she has also found the spotlight to be overwhelming, at times. Competing at the Olympics for the first time at just 17 brings with it enough pressure, something that is amplified for Chloe given the games are in South Korea. Growing up, Chloe visited Korea nearly every year, but America feels much more familiar to the snowboarder.
“In a lot of ways, I’m still a tourist,” Chloe told ESPN. “I’ve been visiting Korea for years, but I’m not a local at all. I still get lost.”
Chloe has not only emerged as one of the faces of the 2018 Winter Olympics in America, but has become a celebrity in South Korea making the media attention twice as bright. When a group of reporters approached her in South Korea, Chloe noted to Time she still find the attention weird.
“I was really confused [about the media attention], because that never happens to me in America,” Chloe told Time. She is hopeful she can be accepted by fans in both countries, because her family is a blend of the two cultures.
“I have this different opportunity because I’m Korean-American, but I’m riding for the States,” Chloe explained to ESPN. “At first I was confused on how that would be accepted. But now I’m starting to understand that I can represent both countries.”
Chloe has admitted she might have tried to overdo things in trips to Pyeongchang prior to the Olympics, as she attempted to fulfill commitments to both countries. She understands that her focus is on the snowboarding competition itself, and the rest will work itself out.
“That trip [prior to the Olympics] was a lot for me,” Chloe told ESPN. “I don’t know why we did all of that. Doing press in Korea isn’t important to me. I’m proud of my Korean heritage, but I want people to know I’m American. It’s not important to be the Korean Taylor Swift.
4. Chloe’s Parents Met in Switzerland While Jong Was Running a Travel Agency
Jong’s first stint in the United States was not without its fair share of hard times. According to ESPN, he met his first wife, and the couple had two daughters, Tracy (31) and Erica (27). The marriage ended in divorce, and Jong decided to join his sister in Switzerland where he opened a travel agency for Koreans.
While running the travel agency, Jong met Boran Yun who lived in Seoul, but was in Switzerland for business. The two hit it off, and eventually got married. Jong would try America for a second time as the couple moved to the States in 1998. The couple settled on Torrance, California, which was not too far from the slopes. According to Time, Jong tried to entice Boran to join him in the snow, but she was not keen on it.
“My dad was trying to drag my mom into coming with him,” Chloe told Time. “I was kind of the bait.”
Chloe showed so much promise at a young age that her parents sent her to live with her aunt in Geneva, Switzerland when Chloe was eight years old.
“I realized how cool the mountains were, how the clouds are always beneath us,” Chloe told Time.
5. Chloe Speaks Three Languages: Korean, French & English
Not only is Chloe a talented snowboarder, she speaks three languages. Growing up, Chloe learned both English and Korean thanks to her family, and also learned French during her stay in Switzerland.
“I was the only Asian in my school, so that made me an easy target,” Chloe told ESPN. “When I became fluent in French, they’d call me ‘Chinese,’ I’d say something sassy back and then they’d be nice to me. Plus, I got mega cute when I got to fourth grade, and all the boys loved me.”
As a sign of respect, Chloe conducted some of her media interviews leading up to the Olympics in Korean, something she had not done publicly prior to the press conferences. It was her father’s idea, and a move Jong believed opened up the door for increased popularity in South Korea.
“It [speaking Korean] will show them she cares about her heritage,” Jong told ESPN. “Then they won’t ask why they should promote a Korean-American snowboarder instead of a Korean athlete.” Chloe noted the idea was not without its complexities, and she was nervous her message could be misconveyed if she made a mistake.
“Korean is such a complex language, and there’s a respectful and a casual way to say things,” Chloe told ESPN. “The last thing I wanted to do was offend anyone as soon as I got to Korea.”
As a child, Chloe may have resisted learning Korean, but she is thankful her parents pushed her to persevere in learning the language.
“My parents taught me Korean,” Chloe told Time. “I hated learning it at first. I was like, ‘Ugh, really, why do I have to do this, I live in America?’ But it’s been so useful. I can talk to my family here now.”