PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA — Chloe Kim’s coronation is complete.
The 17-year-old from Torrance, California, dominated the Olympic women’s halfpipe snowboarding final on Tuesday, soaring to a gold medal four years in the making.
Kim put up a score of 93.75 on the first of her three finals runs and then bettered it with a near-perfect 98.25 on her last run with the gold already well in hand. With members of her family in the stands, including her South Korean grandmother, Kim put on a show that delivered on her considerable pre-Olympic hype.
Liu Jiayu took silver with an 89.75 to become the first Chinese snowboarder to medal at the Olympics.
American Arielle Gold, who pondered retirement last summer, edged teammate and three-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark for bronze.
Kim’s parents were born in South Korea and moved to the United States, putting their daughter in an interesting position heading into her first Olympics.
While she understands the urge to build a narrative around her that turns her into a connective tissue of sorts between the host country and the one she calls home, it’s one she has politely sidestepped. She views herself as just a kid from Southern California who likes music, the mall, ice cream and, oh, by the way, putting down the kind of gravity-escaping, physics-challenging runs that have made her a dominant force in her sport.
Kim would have made the Olympic team with ease four years ago, only to have the calendar get in the way. She was 13 at the time, too young to make the trip to Russia. She entered the quadrennium between the Games with the kind of expectations reserved for the Shaun Whites of the snowboarding world. She has exceeded every one.
Standing atop the hill at calm and brilliant Phoenix Snow Park — a stark contrast to the windy mess that turned the women’s slopestyle final into an ugly, borderline unsafe, crash-filled mess 24 hours earlier — Kim looked down at the crowd that included her parents, three sisters, three aunts, two cousins and grandmother Moon Jung and proceeded to waste little time while turning the final into a global coming-out party.
She drilled her opening set, throwing in a 1080 — basically, three twists high above the pipe — before following it with a pair of flips (or “corks”). Kim celebrated at the end, pumping her fists as “USA!” “USA!” chants rained down. When her score flashed, she clasped her hands atop her head and drank in the moment.
Kim’s teammates made serious bids to give the Americans their fourth-ever Olympic podium sweep.
Gold, who dislocated her right shoulder during training for the Sochi Olympics and didn’t compete, then barely made the 12-woman final, brushed off a fall during her first run and stomped an 85.75 on her third run. Clark, the 2002 Olympic champion still going strong at age 34, couldn’t quite catch Gold with an 83.50.
Jiayu came the closest to providing Kim with a serious threat. She drilled an 89.75 during her first set to take the lead, only to watch Kim top it during her first run moments later.
Jiayu then washed out on her last trip down the longest Olympic halfpipe since the sport made its debut in 1998, turning Kim’s last run into a victory lap. Rather than playing it safe, she went for it. With her No. 1 bib soaring into the South Korean sky, she put on a display that left the rest of the field and the thousands packed near the finish roaring their approval.
Kim’s score of 98.75 flirted with perfection. It was fitting in a way because Kim is as close to it as anyone in her sport.
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