Home fans take high-flying Kim to their hearts
When she soared to women’s snowboard halfpipe gold on 12 February, the USA’s Chloe Kim cemented her reputation as one of PyeongChang 2018’s most exciting young talents not to mention her fast-growing popularity in the host nation.
The 17-year-old - the youngest female snowboarder to win an Olympic gold medal - owes that popularity to both her spellbinding skills and her Korean heritage. Her parents, who have been instrumental in her meteoric rise, both hail from the Republic of Korea, but emigrated to the USA before Kim was born.
They were at Phoenix Snow Park to see their daughter win gold, as were two of Kim’s sisters, three aunts, two cousins and her 75-year-old grandmother, who was driven in from Seoul specially for the occasion.
“It means a lot just being able to do it where my family is from,” said the 17-year-old Kim after her stunning gold medal-winning performance.
There was a lot of pressure, but I’m happy I was able to do it here and do it for the fans and the family. It was a really fun moment for everyone. I think today I did it for my family and I am so grateful to them.Chloe Kim United States of America
Pulling out a spectacular array of tricks on each of her three runs - the third of which earned her 98.25 points out of a possible 100 - Kim drew huge cheers from home fans and US fans alike.
Already sizeable before she headed out to PyeongChang, the US rider’s Korean fan club has been growing fast since the start of the Games, with the host nation’s media also embracing her and devoting as much attention to her as to many of their own athletes.
Social media darling
Greeted by requests for selfies everywhere she goes, Kim has had her face across magazine covers in the USA and the Republic of Korea and is also seeing her online profile grow fast.
“Social media has been crazy recently,” she explained. “I came here on Instagram with 164,000 [followers] and now I have 300,000 and something, which is insane. My mum is always like, ‘Post a picture of me, so I can get more followers. Comment on my follow. Like it’.”
That level of popularity brings with it huge expectations. Yet, as the teenager showed in her dazzling halfpipe display, she has been coping with the pressure admirably: “There is definitely a lot happening and I did feel a little overwhelmed, but I am trying to take in the whole experience.”
Pangs of hunger
Kim, who won both halfpipe and slopestyle gold at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lillehammer 2016, loves to engage with her fans, even finding time to go on social media during the final to tell her followers about her empty stomach.
“Wish I finished my breakfast sandwich but my stubborn self decided not to and now I’m getting ‘hangry’,” she wrote. To give an indication of her popularity, that message alone earned more than 77,000 likes by the end of the day.
“Chloe Kim is a hero for both America and [the Republic of] Korea,” said one local fan at the Phoenix Snow Park, an American flag draped across her shoulders.
Kim seems the perfect embodiment of a Games where the themes of unity, youth and hope are very much to the fore.