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ZHANGJIAKOU, China — “My butt hurts!”
It’s a line that probably won’t make Olympic history, but it’s a line that perfectly defines Chloe Kim, who delivered it with a relieved grin not long after claiming a second straight gold in halfpipe.
There are writers, and then there is Shakespeare. There are composers, and then there is Mozart. There are snowboarders, and then there is Chloe Kim. Some geniuses reign so far above the world around them that everyone else is simply fighting for the silver medal.
But as brilliant as Shakespeare and Mozart were, they never pulled off two 1080s — tricks with three complete rotations, or 1,080 degrees — off the edges of a glistening, icy 22-foot-high halfpipe in the mountains above Beijing. That’s precisely what Kim achieved in her first run of the finals, and it was enough by itself to stand up to the best that the rest of the world’s snowboarders could attempt three different times.
“There is a lot of emotion here,” she said afterward. “I am sad that my family isn’t here. I’m sad that my friends aren't here. I’m sad that it’s not the same exact experience due to COVID, however, I’m so grateful that we even were able to do this and come here and represent our countries. That’s the most important part.”
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 10, 2022
Kim, 21, is four years older and infinitely wiser than she was when she captured gold, and the world’s attention, in PyeongChang. She dealt with the joys of sudden fame — wealth, celebrity admirers, accolades at every turn — and also faced its nasty dark side of backstabbing, social media bile, and the inevitable pressure to do more, better, always.
Kim has spent the last half-decade dominating the sport from every angle, even with a 22-month break from competition while she enrolled at Princeton. In addition to her gold at PyeongChang, she claimed world championships in halfpipe in 2019 and 2021, the two years she participated. She has 10 wins and 12 podiums in 14 starts, and has won every one of the five World Cup events she’s competed in since December 2018.
The 11 riders before her posted respectable enough scores in the first round, and then it was Kim’s turn. With ease and grace, she ripped off those 1080s and a 900 on a morning when no other rider had even done more than one 1080. That was enough to launch Kim right to the top of the leaderboard out of the gate. She collapsed in joy at the bottom of the pipe as the scores of the six judges rolled in; her friend Eileen Gu swooped in for an embrace.
“I just was so proud of myself,” Kim said of that moment. “I had the worst practice ever. I probably landed my run twice when I’m used to landing it eight times normally. And so that kind of puts you in a weird headspace, and it just felt so inconsistent. I was like, ‘I don’t want to feel all this pressure of not being able to land my first safety run,’ so I was just overflowed with emotion when I was able to land it on the first go, and then it opened up a lot of opportunity for me to go try something new.”
While Kim was attempting to break new ground, her competition was still trying to catch up with what she’d already thrown down. Kim’s opening-round 94.00 would stand up to another 24 challenges from Olympic snowboarders. Eleven other riders, each with the misfortune to be born in a world where Chloe Kim already owns the halfpipe.
Which brings us back to the butt pain. Kim was so dominant so quickly in the final event that her only competition was herself. She wanted to break through the icy barriers at the top edge of her sport, attempting tricks no female snowboarder had ever landed in competition.
She wanted to rotate in all four directions — up, down, side to side. She wanted to land a cab (backward) 1260, three-and-a-half rotations. No woman has landed that trick in competition, but with that 94.00 first round in hand, Kim decided it was time to bust it out. She attempted the 1260 on her second run, but couldn’t land it.
When her final run came around, the gold was assured; no other riders were left to challenge her. As long as she reached the bottom of the halfpipe — whether by flipping, spinning or sliding down on her belly — the gold medal was hers. So once again she tried to bust out the cab 1260, and once again she … just … missed … landing it.
“It was worth it for sure, 1000 percent,” she said of the attempts. “That’s what keeps me going. I wish I’d landed it, but next time.”
What will that next time be for Kim? That’s a decision for another day, but she seems a lock for future Olympics if she wants them. Spain’s Queralt Castellet, who won the silver medal, is 11 years older than Kim; if Kim were to try to stick around that long, she’d be competing in Olympics which haven’t even been assigned yet. She’s already built on the person she was four years ago.
“I am more prepared this time,” she said. “It was a learning experience last time, but now that I’ve grown up a little more, I understand boundaries and I have an amazing therapist. So I think it’ll make the journey a lot more doable for me.”
For now, Kim can revel in the joy of doing exactly what she expected to do, doing exactly what the world expected of her, doing everything she expected of herself. That’s the purest satisfaction of all, and on a beautiful morning in China, Chloe Kim earned it.