ZHANGJIAKOU, China – It was not make history happened to Chloe Kim, at least not the kind of Olympic snowboarding where her second gold medal set a new benchmark.
No, it was the last hours of the story that had her bent over with relief, out of breath. The American snowboarder did as everyone expected, winning the Beijing Olympics final in a contest that showed just how far she was ahead of her peers.
But that victory came after precarious pre-competition training in which she landed her safety run just twice instead of the normal eight. She was not celebrating a victory. She was celebrating her landing.
“It was so inconsistent,” Kim said. “I was like, I don’t want to feel all this pressure of not being able to land my first safety race.
“I was so proud of myself.”
Kim, 21, had much to be proud of. She became the first woman in Olympic history to win more than one gold medal in halfpipe snowboarding, a feat that several top pilots have failed to achieve in the more than two decades he has been in the Games.
Four years after winning gold for the first time in Pyeongchang, Kim’s victory at Genting Snow Park on Thursday was met with Herculean expectations. Since returning to competitive snowboarding after taking a year off to go to Princeton, she has won all but one competition – and even there she finished second.
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“It wasn’t easy. She rides so much better than everyone else, but that expectation of victory is overwhelming,” said Rick Bower, halfpipe coach for the US Ski and Snowboard Team.
“We had several women on Team USA who could have won gold medals multiple times, primarily Kelly Clark. I’m so proud of her for overcoming the enormous pressure and being able to ride at her best in the Olympics.
Her best was nearly four points ahead of Spain’s Queralt Castellet, who won silver, and nearly eight points ahead of Japan’s Sena Tomita, who won bronze.
The fact that Kim won again without her most progressive ride shows just how far ahead of the pack she is.
In her first race, Kim landed a 900 and two 1080s. No other runner attempted more than one 1080, and only half of the 12-woman field even attempted one. Only four managed to land one.
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Kim dismissed the idea that she was ahead of the rest of the pack and was quick to praise her peers for pushing the progression.
“We are at the Olympics,” she said. “There are a lot of nerves here, and the fact that everyone was able to overcome that and get the races of their lives is so impressive.
But it was on her second and third runs that Kim showed how she drives progression in her sport.
She came to the Games wanting to debut three new tricks, and she attempted a cab 1260 on her second and third runs. She fell both times, but she said she landed him in practice.
“I’m really proud of myself for going out there and trying it out,” Kim said.
Neither woman landed a 1260 in the halfpipe, but Kim’s plan included two variations of it and a switch backside 900, Bower said.
Kim also chooses how she wants to progress. She learned a frontside double cork 1080 – a difficult trick that combines two off-axis flips with three spins – a few years ago but decided she didn’t like it.
“She rides at a different level than the rest of the peloton,” Bower said. “She does tricks that she wants to do. …She decided after taking some time that she wanted to showcase the riding she was proud of, and that’s what she did here. Master the sport, turn four ways, land well and go big.
That mastery put her in the position of having to navigate the post-Olympics crush and crush that can flatten some athletes and did it for Kim after 2018.
Requests after winning a medal from sponsors, media and fans can be significant and come at a time when they are not normally competing. Critics sometimes follow. Then after the whirlwind that follows the Games, it stops.
After Pyeongchang, it became too much for Kim. Kim threw her gold medal in the trash, blaming her for her troubles, although she later got it back.
This time, she says she has grown up and understands limits better. Plus, she points out, she has a good therapist. And she’s getting better at sharing those struggles in a way that sports greats like gymnast Simone Biles and tennis star Naomi Osaka did last year.
“It’s unfair to expect to be perfect, and I’m by no means perfect. I think after my last Olympics I put pressure on myself to be perfect all the time,” he said. she said, “I would be really sad and depressed all the time when I was home, and I was hurting the people I love the most by doing that.”
Although COVID restrictions mean her family and friends couldn’t be here and this gold medal celebration is different, Kim is trying to enjoy it as much as she can.
After qualifying, she told NBC she was doing this because she didn’t know how many games she would have. At 21, Kim certainly has time for five Olympics like Clark, triple medalist, or Castellet.
She made history by becoming the first woman to win multiple gold medals in this event, and the way she runs the sport suggests she could add something to that. But that’s if she chooses.
“I just said that because I really don’t know how many more Olympics I’m going to do,” she said. “Honestly, I think it all depends on how I feel mentally, physically, if I feel like maybe I want to like snowboarding and not do it at a crazy competitive level for too long.
“It’s about being smart with it, prioritizing my health first and taking it step by step.”
This step Thursday was a step no woman had taken before, one back on the Olympic podium.