PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Hers is a life changed.
From 17-year-old standout to Olympic champion.
Standing at 5ft 3in, it is not always easy to spot Chloe Kim in a crowd, but on a cloudless Tuesday in South Korea it was obvious where America’s new golden girl was.
Kim had already done enough to win the women’s halfpipe gold before she started her final attempt, only to knock it out of the park with a near-perfect score of 98.25.
At the bottom, she was engulfed in a crowd of reporters and photographers, all competing for her attention over the relentless clicking of camera shutters, with yells of “Chloe! Chloe! Chloe!,” the shuffling throng following her every move like ducklings.
Journalists from all around the world wanted to speak to the new Olympic champion. She ran the gauntlet of TV interviews and negotiated the maze of reporters with equanimity.
Fans wanted a piece of the action too, craning necks, standing on tip-toe, sticking their smartphones in the air. Any sort of picture would do.
Such was the madness, minutes before Kim — the youngest female Olympic gold medalist on snow — stood tearfully atop the podium, her mother Boran was pleading to be let through a security check point.
It was a circus. That is what happens when a teenage sensation fulfills her destiny.
The first female snowboarder in history to land back-to-back 1080 degree spins in competition aged just 15, the four-time X-Games gold medalist is not an unknown. She is used to being in the spotlight.
But on a day when the sun’s glare dazzled off the pristine snow, Kim’s star shone as brightly as any of sport’s biggest names. She has entered a whole new world.
The girl who would climb onto a trampoline each morning before elementary school to practice jumps and flips later admitted she felt like crying before embarking on her thrilling grand finale.
She performed three spins on the left side, becoming the first female to land consecutive 1080s in the halfpipe at the Olympics.
Members of Kim’s family whooped and hollered. Overcome with emotion, Kim’s sister could not speak. American flags were raised towards the azure sky. It was spellbinding.
Her final score of 98.25 was eight-and-a-half points clear of Chinese silver medalist Liu Jiayu.
An hour after her first Olympic gold had been won, the Californian cheerfully sauntered to the press conference, arm around her beaming father. Sharp elbows were needed to capture the moment.
“There’s not enough of her to go around,” said one journalist. “So aggressive,” muttered another, dismayed at her fellow reporters.
Red mist nearly descended as a wayward tripod brushed a member of Team USA. Some needed reminding that these were the “Peace” Games.
‘This one’s for you grans’
Kim, the daughter of South Korean immigrants, dedicated her performance to her grandmother, who still lives in South Korea and was watching her granddaughter compete for the first time.
“I actually found out during the second run that she was at the bottom and I thought ‘this one’s for you grans.’ I can’t wait to go shopping with her,” Kim told reporters.
The weight of expectation lifted, the teenage trailblazer — talented enough but too young to compete under international rules at Sochi four years ago — was relaxed enough to take selfies with compatriot and bronze medalist Arielle Gold before a room full of journalists and pretended to sing into the mic as one of her answers were translated.
She made peace signs to her father, Jong Jin Kim, who reciprocated from the back of the room, shaking his head and laughing at his daughter’s calm.
The pressure had melted away for both of them.
“I was very stressed because everyone was saying Chloe was going to win gold but no one knows the result — that I cannot control,” he told CNN Sport.
“Now I’m happy, all the stress is gone. I’m the dad of an Olympic gold medalist, not many people have this kind of feeling.”
‘For my family’
Kim has said she often cries when speaking about her father, the man who is the embodiment of the American Dream, emigrating to the States in 1982 with $800 in cash. He has had a starring role in his daughter’s success. After winning gold, Kim admitted she was unable to fathom “leaving your life behind and chasing this dream with your kid.”
The elder Kim gave up his job so that his youngest daughter’s jaw-dropping talent could blossom. He would carry her from her bed to the car and drive from La Palma in California to Mammoth Mountain, five-and-a-half hours away.
“Everybody does hard work for their kid, but I thank my daughter because she achieved the result,” he added. “She’s a good kid. I tell her to be humble, that this is from hard work, that you weren’t born this way.”
Also watching on, amazed by the attention, was Kim’s mum. There has already been an upshot to her daughter’s Olympic feat, she admitted — more Instagram followers.
“My mum keeps asking me to post pictures of her so she can get more followers. We definitely have fun with it,” said Kim, explaining that her Twitter followers have doubled since the Games began.
Countless questions were asked: what was she listening to before each run? Lady Gaga at first, for the last two runs she couldn’t remember. What would she most like to eat? A burger and fries, or a pizza.
“I don’t know what I’m saying right now, but I’m just really happy,” she added.
“I’m definitely happy with how I was able to handle the pressure. When you work for something for so long and you go home with the best possible outcome is amazing.
“Today I really did it for my family.”
Thousands on social media have already congratulated the teenager, while her first Twitter post on becoming Olympic champion has received over 25,000 likes.
Her coronation complete, more fans will follow during what is expected to be a long reign.