A Family Dream Come True and a Limitless Future: US Teen Chloe Kim Wins Gold

Joon Lee@iamjoonleeStaff WriterFebruary 13, 2018

Gold medallist US Chloe Kim celebrates during the victory ceremony after the women's snowboard halfpipe final event at the Phoenix Park during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games on February 13, 2018 in Pyeongchang. / AFP PHOTO / LOIC VENANCE        (Photo credit should read LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images)
LOIC VENANCE/Getty Images

BONGPYEONG, South Korea — Jong Jin Kim didn't want to assume anything. He had just watched his daughter, Korean American snowboarding prodigy Chloe Kim, make her first run in the halfpipe finals Tuesday at Phoenix Snow Park.

The run scored at 93.75, practically guaranteeing her first place, even with two rounds to go. So many people around him—Americans, foreigners, Koreans—assumed it was already a wrap.

"Congratulations on Chloe!" one member of the media said in Korean.

"We still don't know yet!" Jong Jin exclaimed back in Korean. "We still have to wait a little bit. It's great that she didn't fall down though."

Jong Jin didn't want to give in to what just about every other person in Pyeongchang knew was inevitable. He'd already waited 17 years for this moment. He was willing to wait a little bit longer before celebrating.

Chloe came back toward the family section, content with her first run, to meet her parents, her two sisters, three aunts and her future brother-in-law and her grandma. She saw her grandma, Moon Jungae, 75, begin to tear up. This was the first time Moon had seen her granddaughter snowboard. For years, Moon had brought newspaper clippings to her tea group, pointing at pictures and articles of Chloe.

"Don't cry," Chloe said to Moon, giving her a hug.

"OK," Moon said in Korean. "OK."

Like Moon, the American public watched on Tuesday as Chloe's life of work culminated in gold—her final run, a victory lap in effect, earned her 98.25 points. The story's been beaten into the ground more than the Crying Jordan meme at this point. Jong Jin gave up his job when Chloe was 10 to help his daughter pursue Olympic glory. She moved to Switzerland to train for two years before returning to the United States and earning prodigious marks, qualifying for the Olympics at 13 years old. When Jong Jin arrived at LAX in 1982 at 26 years old, he had $800 and an English-Korean dictionary. He bought a one-week stay at a hotel, a 1970 Chevy Nova and a carton of Kent cigarettes. On Tuesday, he watched his daughter achieve Olympic immortality.

"When I came to the United States, this was my American hope," Jong Jin said in Korean. "Now, this is my American dream."

By the time she stepped up for her third run, Chloe had already sealed the gold medal, but she was unsatisfied. She thought she could do better than a 93.75. She wanted to go for her hardest run.

"I knew if I went home with the gold medal knowing that I could do better, I wasn't going to be very satisfied," Kim said. "That situation, I did put down a really good first run, but I was like: 'I can do better than that. I can one-up myself.' The third run was for me to prove to myself if I did it, and I could go home really happy and excited."

She more than proved it to herself by nailing the sequence only she and Shaun White have done: the back-to-back 1080s. And just like that, a star was born—the first female to land consecutive 1080s in the Olympic halfpipe. She earned a score of 98.25, more than eight points ahead of Chinese silver medalist Liu Jiayu.

Immediately, the flood of reporters trailed her every move; from the podium back down to the press conference center, photographers nearly trampled one another. As she walked around the mixed zone talking to reporters, she chomped on chocolate ice cream, fulfilling her wish from the day before, when she tweeted about her desire for some sweets between qualifying runs.

For the Kims, finally, a moment to breathe.

"We all worked so hard. I can take a break now," Jong Jin said in Korean. "We worked so hard. Now she's going to go to college. She's a student, and she's got to go study hard. Snowboarding is what you do when you're young. Who knows how much longer she's going to keep snowboarding? I just want her to study hard. She's got to go have a good experience in college. I just hope she lives as a happy girl. I just wish she was a little nicer to me. She's such a teenage girl. She can do what she wants to do. We've been so close for so long. Now I can take a break."

Chloe's world has changed forever. Her Twitter followers grew from 3,000 before the Olympics to 135,000 by the time she earned her gold medal. Her Instagram following has doubled from 150,000 to 343,000 and counting. In less than a week, she's gone from snowboarding-famous to real-life-everyone-has-their-eyes-on-me famous.

Both Chloe and Jong Jin know this is just the beginning. There could be many more Olympics, many more medals to come years down the road. The potential is endless for Chloe. Still just 17, she is setting the pace for the snowboarding world. Her newfound fame will inevitably lead to more endorsement deals and will likely propel her to Olympic stardom among the likes of White and Lindsey Vonn. People are already turning to her for advice, asking her how they can also fulfill their destiny.

"I think, you know, if you're young—even if you're old, it doesn't matter how old you are—but if you find something that you really want to try, just give it a try," Chloe said. "You're never going to know. The one thing I learned is to just give everything a shot. You don't want to live in regret."

Through the rush of cameras and press trying to get a glimpse of the family, Jong Jin hugged his wife, Boran.

Their last name, Kim, translates to "gold" in Korean. How fitting: Chloe Kim became Chloe Gold.

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