Why Chloe Kim Is On Course to Become the World’s Best-Known Snowboarder
Could she be the next Shaun White?
[Lead image: This group of Chloe Kim fans work in marketing for Toyota, already one of her big name sponsors. Photo: Tristan Kennedy]
“Jong jin, your daughter is going to be everywhere in the United States. What’s that feel like, to know that she’s going to be a star?" The elderly Korean man smiled. “I’m very happy?" he said, slightly bemused by the question and the scrum of reporters encircling him.
But if Chloe Kim’s father found the question odd, the journalist who asked it wasn’t wrong. His daughter, whose picture was on front pages across the US and around the world following her victory, is well on a way to being a globally recognisable superstar.
Every now and then an athlete comes along who transcends their sport. Tiger Woods. Lindsey Vonn. David Beckham. In snowboarding, it’s arguably happened only once, with a certain Shaun Roger White. But all signs are pointing to the fact that Chloe Kim may be the next rider not just to cross over to the mainstream, but to conquer it.
If you were to design a snowboarder for the side of cereal boxes in a lab, you’d be hard pushed to come up with a better one than the 17-year-old girl who just won gold.
"If you designed a snowboarder for the side of cereal boxes in a lab, you’d be hard pushed to do better than Chloe Kim."
For starters, there’s her undeniable talent. When she hits the pipe walls, Chloe boosts head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Her tricks are not just big, they’re stylish. In a discipline that for years was dominated by Kelly Clark with her tap-grabbed 1080s, Chloe Kim’s tweaked methods and long-held grabs are a breath of fresh air.
And then there’s her consistency. There are plenty of insanely talented riders - witness young Red Gerard, who like Chloe has taken the top spot on an Olympic podium at the age of 17 - there are few who win as regularly as Chloe.
She’s won four of the last five X Games finals, taking her first gold at the age of just 15, and her FIS record is equally enviable. Given the statistics, winning the Olympic gold almost felt like a formality.
Kim’s background also makes her interesting, especially at these Olympics. Her parents emigrated to the US from Korea in 1982, settling in LA. So while Chloe is an all-American teenager, her heritage means that the Korean media and Korean crowds watching here in Pyeongchang have taken her as one of their own. Much was made of the fact that her surname means "gold" in Korean.
Ally Boeun was watching Chloe win gold with her son, Kun Her and husband Jungmin, who works as a snowboard instructor at Phoenix Park. “We’re big fans of Chloe Kim," she said. “She’s awesome, so powerful. We have no Korean snowboarders in this event so everybody here is supporting Chloe."
For Chloe’s father, her winning in his home country also felt different. “Although Chloe was born in America she is 100 per cent Korean in her blood," he said. “And blood is blood. So it is very special."
No fewer than 20 members of the extended Kim family had turned up to cheer her on, including her grandmother. “My grandmother has never seen me compete before." Chloe said. “I actually found out after my second run that she was at the bottom, so I was like ‘this one’s for Grams."
The attention from fans and media has been “kind of overwhelming," Chloe admitted. “My twitter has been blowing up," she said. “I came here with 164,000 Instagram followers, and now I have 300 and something, it’s crazy."
But if she felt the weight of expectation when she rode, Chloe wasn’t showing it. “There is a lot of pressure around these games," she said afterwards. “You wait four years to come here and there's definitely a lot of hype around this one or two hour time period. But I'm definitely happy with the way I handled the pressure today."
Her team mate Arielle Gold, who took home the bronze behind China’s Jiyau Liu said: “Spending time around her and seeing how mature she is, I knew she was going to be just fine, you know. She’s mature beyond her years."
Her single-minded focus is certainly impressive. Chloe does, she says, enjoy riding powder. “Before I came here to the Olympics I went to Japan for a week," she told Onboard, but it’s unlikely we’ll see a backcountry edit emerging any time soon.
“It was definitely a nice change of scenery and it helps me be a little more excited to ride halfpipe again," she said, but when asked about her role models they were all contest riders – Gretchen Bleiler, Kelly Clark and Torah Bright.
"'Before I came here to the Olympics I went to Japan for a week,' Chloe told Onboard, but it’s unlikely we’ll see a backcountry edit emerging any time soon."
With the possible exception of Torah, these are all riders who’ve dedicated their careers to contest riding and yet not had the breakthrough success of a Shaun or a Tiger. So what makes Chloe different?
Well there’s no denying her dominance. No-one else is coming close to putting down back-to-back 10s in women’s pipe. If Chloe Kim shows up, it’s hard to see anyone beating her in the near future. But it’s who she is as much as how she rides.
She’s clean-living, but also fun. Relatable, but also an Olympic gold medallist. An all-American teenager, but also a brilliant brand ambassador for the emerging Asian market. It’s small wonder that a whole crowd from Toyota’s marketing department were watching her win gold – the brand already sponsors her, and had produced all those “Go Chloe Kim" signs specially for the occasion.
Off the snow, her demeanour is just as self-assured as her riding on it. And it’s a combination of all of these factors that will push her star into the stratosphere.
In the post pipe press conference, Chloe stuck out her tongue, snapping selfies unselfconsciously with Arielle. Fielding a ridiculous question from People magazine about her favourite foods, she started taking the piss out of the press. “I guess Hawaiian pizza? I’m just here to inspire you know?"
Whether it was the confidence of youth, or the experience she’d gained from previous wins, Chloe Kim already looked entirely at home in the spotlight.
Which is just as well, because we can’t see her leaving it for a long time.