U.S. star Chloe Kim poised to be present and future of women's snowboarding

Teenage phenom credits her parents' sacrifices for burgeoning career

U.S. star Chloe Kim poised to be present and future of women's snowboarding
At 17, Chloe Kim is a three-time Winter X Games halfpipe champion and is poised to be the face of women's snowboarding. © Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

By Chicco Nacion, CBC Sports

American snowboarder Chloe Kim isn't your ordinary teenager.

At the age of 17, she's won five Winter X Games medals and is the only woman to land back-to-back 1080 spins in halfpipe competition.

That performance in 2016 earned the Long Beach, Calif., native a perfect 100 score — something only legendary compatriot Shaun White has accomplished.

It's likely Kim would have won a medal of some colour in Sochi, but at 13 years old at the time was too young to compete. The Olympics are restricted to athletes 15 and older.

Kim, though, has no issues with the age limit as the wait helped her prepare for her Olympic debut in Pyeongchang.

"I was kind of happy I wasn't old enough to go," Kim said recently. "Now that I think about it, I wouldn't have been able to handle the pressure and everything that comes with it."

Parents' sacrifices

Kim hasn't let the success go to her head and she attributes that to her inner circle of friends and family. Her older sisters make sure they put her in place when necessary and Kim says that being the same person has in turn translated into success. 

"It's just me surrounding myself with good people and my family is so supportive — they keep me very grounded," she said. "When I go home, it's not like [I'm] a princess or anything. I'm still the youngest daughter. Just staying myself keeps me comfortable snowboarding and gets me in the right headspace."

Kim's parents sacrificed a lot to make their daughter's Olympic dreams a reality.

Her father, Jong-Jin, saw Kim win a junior national title at age six and that was enough for him to quit his engineering job and do everything within his power to help her succeed.

They moved to Switzerland when Kim was eight. Every other month, she had a two-week vacation from school during which the two would travel to the Alps, her training base for two years.

"The most important thing was just their never ending support," Kim said. "They were always there for me. They gave up a lot. That's probably exhausting — taking care of a kid, traveling ... without their support I wouldn't be here. They believed in me even if it was hard [to]."

Centre of attention

All eyes will be on Kim when she drops into the halfpipe as qualifying begins Sunday (11:30 p.m. ET).

Not only is she a favourite, but Pyeongchang is a homecoming of sorts as her parents are both Korean and she'll have plenty of extended family in attendance.

Despite being born and raised in the United States, Kim has been treated as one of their own — almost like a K-Pop star.

She's fluent in Korean and is very much in touch with her culture.

Kim recognizes that it's a unique situation to be almost representing both countries and an Olympic gold medal could launch her onto another level of stardom.

But just as she's done so far in her young career, Kim is handling the situation with poise beyond her years.

"I just need to think about it like a normal practice — just take a step back, focus on myself, and not worry about what other people are going to think or what other people are going to say," Kim said. 

"I don't [want to] put too much pressure on myself because it is my first Olympics and I'm going to learn a lot from it and do better at the next one. I want to go in with an open mind and enjoy the moment."