In 2014, Chloe Kim was relegated to a footnote in the Olympic history books.
Her absence from the Sochi Games was noteworthy. Had she been allowed to compete, she might have won a medal. There was one problem though: She was too young.
Official rules stated that competitors for snowboard halfpipe must have turned at least 15 years old by the end of 2013. Kim was just 13, though she was already one of the best halfpipe riders in the world.
As a result, many people lamented the idea that the Olympics would go on without her. Kim admits that she, too, was disappointed at the time.
Now she sees it as a blessing in disguise.
“Now that I think about it, I’m really glad I wasn’t able to go,” Kim told NBC Olympics last year. “I don’t think I would’ve been able to take it, to handle the pressure. Emotionally I don’t think I was ready.
“There’s obviously such a huge difference between 13 and 17. Like, when I was 13, what did I do? Get my nails done and do maybe two or three contests a year. I feel like a lot’s changed. And I didn’t have much experience when it came to a lot of media pressure and sponsors, all that stuff. But now I kind of know, I’ve kind of been through it all. So I think I’ll be a little more prepared for things.”
Instead of competing in Sochi, Kim watched the event while sitting on her couch and eating ice cream.
This time in PyeongChang, she’ll be a participant. And the expectations will be high.
Kim, who is a first-generation Korean-American, is not just expected to win the gold medal – she’s expected to be a breakout star. A number of Olympic sponsors have made her a cornerstone of their activations, and she’s been featured heavily in NBC’s lead-up marketing, even starring in her own Super Bowl commercial.
When it comes to tricks, Kim is a step ahead of the field. She’s had the frontside 1080 dialed in for a number of years, but her main focus this season has been cleaning up the switch version of that trick (which is called a “cab 1080”).
Two years ago, Kim became the first woman to land back-to-back 1080s – she did a frontside 1080 on one wall of the halfpipe, followed by a cab 1080 on the other wall – in a competition run. She remains the only woman to successfully execute that combo.
She’s been able to win numerous contests since then without that second 1080 in her run, but with many of her competitors suddenly stepping up their game and learning the frontside 1080 before PyeongChang, Kim dusted off the back-to-back 10s again last month at X Games Aspen.
The result: her third gold medal in four years at the event.
Kim will now try to carry that momentum over to the PyeongChang Olympics, where a U.S. medal sweep is a very real possibility. Teammates Arielle Gold, Maddie Mastro and Kelly Clark went second, third and fourth behind Kim at X Games.
“I think about it all the time,” Kim said with a laugh when asked if she ever lets herself envision what it would be like to stand atop the Olympic podium. “Honestly, I think I’ll probably just be bawling my eyes the whole time.”