Who Is Chloe Kim?
On February 13, 2018, seventeen--year--old Chloe Kim skidded to a halt at the bottom of the half--pipe course at the PyeongChang (say: pee--YONG--chang) Winter Olympics and, in disbelief, grabbed her helmet with both hands, a giant grin on her face. She knew she’d stomped that run! It was the third and final attempt in her quest for her first Olympic medal while in South Korea. Someone handed the Korean American snowboarding sensation a US flag, and she spread it out behind her like a cape, staring hopefully at the scoreboard and waiting for the result of her final run to come in. It finally flashed onto the big screen: 98.25! Chloe pumped her fists triumphantly, still holding the corners of the flag as she hopped up and down in excitement! She’d done it! The gold medal was hers.
One of Chloe’s Team USA teammates ran up to give her a big hug. The moment that Chloe had spent years training for was here, and pride filled the teenager as she thought about what she’d accomplished. In the country her parents were from, in front of many Korean family members, Chloe had delivered. Chloe Kim had lived up to all the expectations placed upon her since she’d announced herself to the snowboarding world at age thirteen. Now she had become the youngest American woman to ever medal in snowboarding at the Olympics—-and she’d done it in style, pulling off a trick that had never been done by a woman before at the Olympic Games.
“When you work for something for so long and you go home with the best possible outcome, it’s amazing,” Chloe said later, at her victory press conference. “Today, I really did it for my family,” she said as her parents watched proudly from the back of the room.
In some ways, Chloe’s electrifying performance at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018 was the storybook ending to the unlikely tale of how a Korean American girl, who grew up in a Korean immigrant family of nonathletes, became a gold--medal--winning Winter Olympian and a role model for many in the Asian American community. But in other ways, it merely served as an introduction. Because as a seventeen--year--old at her first Winter Olympics, Chloe’s Olympic snowboarding career was really just beginning. Chapter 1: From Korea to America
Chloe Kim was born in Torrance, California, on Easter Sunday, April 23, 2000. She is a first--generation Korean American, which means that her father, Jong Jin Kim, and her mother, Boran Yun Kim, were both born outside the United States but moved to America before they had Chloe. Jong Jin moved from South Korea to the United States in 1982, carrying a Korean--English dictionary and $800 in cash. He picked Los Angeles as his destination because that was the only direct flight he could afford. He thought of America as his dream country and a land of opportunity.
With his $800, Jong Jin bought an inexpensive car and paid $150 for a weeklong stay at a motel. Then he found work as a dishwasher at a burger restaurant and also as a cashier at a store. He practiced English with his customers at work as he saved up money so he could go to college. Soon, Jong Jin was studying engineering at El Camino College by day while working at night as a machinery operator, to put himself through school. He worked as an engineer after college and met his first wife. They had two daughters together—-Tracy and Erica—-but the marriage did not last. After they divorced, Jong Jin moved to Switzerland, where his older sister lived. That’s where he met Chloe’s mom, Boran, when she was in town on a business trip. They fell in love, got married in 1998, and moved to California, where they had Chloe.
When Chloe was only four years old, Jong Jin took her snowboarding for the first time. They drove to Mountain High, a small ski resort in the San Gabriel Mountains, about two hours from their house. Father and daughter learned to snowboard together, but Chloe showed more natural talent than her dad. By the time she was five, Chloe was hitting small jumps and rails on a board that Jong Jin had bought online for twenty--five dollars. The little girl in the pink jacket and purple snowboarding pants rode fearlessly, always bouncing up eagerly to try again after every spill.
Even though he didn’t know very much about snowboarding in the beginning, Jong Jin encouraged Chloe’s love for her new hobby and tried to come up with new ways to help her improve. Chloe’s dad was her first coach. “I think his engineering background helped a lot,” Chloe has said. “Thinking about what you need to do to spin and all that stuff.” When she first started, Chloe rode most naturally with her right foot forward on her snowboard. But whenever possible, Jong Jin encouraged his daughter to ride “switch,” which meant leading with her left leg forward. It felt strange at first, and it wasn’t easy, but Jong Jin persisted, believing that it would help Chloe develop both sides of her body and make it easier for her to do difficult tricks. Today, after years of practice, Chloe is one of the best switch riders in the snowboarding world.
To keep Chloe safe and make falling on snow hurt less, Jong Jin cut up his wife’s old yoga mats and stuffed them into his daughter’s snowboarding pants as cushioning. When Jong Jin heard that waxed snowboards would go faster, he melted candles onto the bottom of Chloe’s snowboard, hoping that would give her a little boost. (As it turns out, candle wax and snowboard wax aren’t quite the same thing—-the board cracked after Chloe’s first run!)
When Chloe was six years old, she joined the Mountain High snowboarding team, mostly because it made snowboarding lessons a little cheaper. By the end of her first season, she was invited to compete at the United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association (USASA) nationals in Lake Tahoe, on the border of California and Nevada.
Making nationals was a big deal! Jong Jin and Chloe drove eight hours to Lake Tahoe only to find that every hotel room in the area was already booked. They ended up sleeping in their car. But that didn’t stop Chloe from getting her first taste of snowboarding success at the national level—-she won three bronze medals in her age group. A year later, she competed at nationals again and won her first junior national championship.
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