Chloe Kim defends her Olympic gold medal in halfpipe

Chloe Kim’s continued domination of the halfpipe has left her so far above the rest of the sport that she needed just one run to defend her Olympic gold medal.

But then again defying gravity has never been the issue for the Torrance 21-year-old. It’s life back down on earth that’s been the problem.

Kim became the first woman ever to win consecutive Olympic Games halfpipe title at the Genting Snow Park H&S Stadium Thursday morning (Wednesday night in the U.S.) with a commanding performance that capped four often trying years in which she struggled in the glare of the spotlight launched by her first gold medal triumph in South Korea.

United States’ Chloe Kim competes during the women’s halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Kim opened the competition with a run that began with a frontside 1080, threw in a 900 and a switch backside 540. By the time Kim touched down with another 1080, she had landed 94.00 score that made it clear the only real competition was for the silver.

The gold secure, Kim was free to gamble, taking two shots at a 1260 on her final two runs, falling both times.

It didn’t matter. Kim had given the U.S. its fifth halfpipe gold medal in the last six Olympic Games.

Kim was America’s sweetheart after her victory at the 2018 Games. You could hardly turn on TV without seeing Kim on a late night talk show or a commercial for Toyota or Nike, at the ESPY’s.

G-Z wanted to rap with her. Actress Frances McDormand gave her a shout-out during her Academy Award acceptance speech.

The Oscar, McDormand gushed “is what Chloe Kim must have felt like after doing back-to-back 1080s in the Olympic halfpipe.”

Everyone knew Chloe. And that was the problem.

On the halfpipe she had freedom, room to breathe. Real life was suffocating.

She was swarmed at restaurants. Mobbed at the mall. Stalked on-line. Bullied, she said, by teammates. Kim was so overwhelmed by her celebrity, bouncing back and forth between resentment and depression, that at one point she threw her gold medal into a trash bin at her parent’s house.

“After I won my first Olympic gold medal in 2018, I experienced something incredibly difficult to overcome and it was just learning how to relive my life,” Kim said. “Going anywhere, people recognizing me, people figuring out where I lived, trying to break into my house. It was a pretty big invasion of privacy. That was something that I’d never thought would happen to me.

“Incorporating that into my new life was very challenging and at that time the only thing that I could blame was that medal.”

Kim now is able to laugh at the memory.

“Don’t worry, I got it out of the trash,” she said. “It’s not in there anymore.”

But she couldn’t find was normalcy.

“There’s a lot of sacrifice that comes with being a professional athlete,” Kim said. “I sacrificed my normal childhood. When kids were going to school or going to prom, I was training and competing at really big events, like the Olympics.

“The Olympic year would have been when I would go to prom. Just seeing how my other friends were living their lives and feeling that I didn’t get those experiences, these kinds of things made me feel like I wanted to do something else for a bit, and I’m really grateful and happy I did that.”

She broke an ankle at the U.S. Open in March 2019. That fall she enrolled at Princeton. But even in the Ivy League, the selfie and autographs requests, the pointing and whispering continued to hound her. Kim avoided the dining hall and popular spots on campus.

Eventually, the novelty of seeing an Olympic champion on her way to the library wore off. She found new friends, one of whom was so unaware of her celebrity that when winter hit Princeton the friend wondered if Kim had ever seen snow before.

Eventually, she returned to the mountain.

“I think I was burnt out a couple of years after the Olympics, which is why I took the time to go to school for a year,” Kim said. “But I think those were really important lessons for me to learn.

“It’s OK to take a step back if you feel like you need some space and now I’m back and I feel so much better than I did then.”

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