The United States has swept the podium just three times in the history of the Winter Olympics. Of those three sweeps, none of have come in a women’s event.That might change in PyeongChang.The women of the U.S. snowboard halfpipe team have an opportunity to make history. With four of the world’s top riders on the team, it’s easy to picture some combination of this group making up the gold, silver and bronze medalists.Here’s a look at who the women looking to make history are, and who might be able to stand in their way.The heavy gold medal favorite in women’s halfpipe is Chloe Kim, who could become one the breakout stars of these Olympics.Kim was unable to compete at the last Olympics in 2014 because she was too young, but she was already well on her way to becoming the best in the world. Two years ago, she became the first woman to land back-to-back 1080s in a halfpipe run, and she repeated the feat a few weeks ago at X Games.Much of Kim’s focus this season has been on cleaning up her cab 1080 — the switch version of the frontside 1080 that several other women have recently learned — so that she can land the back-to-back combo with more consistency.Kim is a first-generation Korean-American. Both of her parents were born in South Korea, and that’s where she’ll now have a chance to win gold in her Olympic debut.Every member of the U.S. Olympic team receives commemorative ring from the U.S. Olympic Committee, which makes snowboarder Kelly Clark’s career a handful.Clark, the 2002 Olympic halfpipe champion, received her fifth Olympic ring, one for the thumb, last week. Monday morning (Sunday evening on the West Coast), Clark will drop into the halfpipe qualification at the Phoenix Snow Park to chase another medal in an Olympic career almost as long as this year’s gold medal favorite, Chloe Kim, 17, is old.I was snowboarding before it was cool,” cracked Clark.Yet Clark at 34 is very much a medal contender in Pyeongchang, her recent form prompting talk of a Team USA medal sweep in Tuesday’s halfpipe final with Clark and Maddie Mastro of Wrightwood joining Kim on the podium.It’s her fifth Olympics and she’s still going,” two-time Olympic halfpipe champion Shaun White said.Clark is coming off a big victory at the Toyota Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain last month, where her 89.0 score beat both Kim (87.0) and Mastro (81.5), who like Kim is 17 or half Clark’s age.If I did the run that I did in Salt Lake (at the 2002 Olympics), I wouldn’t even make the final today,” Clark said. “I’ve had to constantly progress my riding, and I think that’s why I’m still able to be here 16 years later is because I’m constantly challenged, and I love that.Clark’s willingness to test herself has made her trailblazer for American snowboarders for most of two decades. Her victory at the 2002 Games was the first halfpipe gold medal by a U.S. rider male or female. She added bronze medals at the 2010 and 2014 Games. In between she became the first woman to land a 1080 degree jump.She has been nothing but a huge inspiration to me,” Kim said.Growing up in Vermont, Clark charted her own course to the top of the Olympic podium.I remember when I was 14 years old I really set out to go after this dream, to pursue the Olympics and I’m still doing that,” Clark said. “I recorded the ’98 Olympics on a VHS tape, if anybody has any idea what those are. I watched it after school and I said this is what I want to do with my life.You know, four years later I found myself standing on the Olympic podium in Park City. It’s the most overwhelming, incredible, emotional, proudest moment of my life. It’s hard to describe the sort of emotion and intensity that comes along with it.Clark has won more than 70 career events but her competing in a fifth Olympics would put into jeopardy when suffered an injury during a crash at X Games Norway in 2016. She underwent major surgery in April 2016 to repair part of her hamstring that was torn off the bone and reshape her femur. She was off snow for 10 months.What they actually tell you is true: you will get better,” Clark said. “Definitely one of the hardest challenges of my career emotionally, physically. It’s all encompassing, really, when your livelihood and your dreams and your career are all tied together there. If your body doesn’t work it becomes very challenging, so I’m happy to say I was able to fully recover.She was back on the slopes in January 2017. A month later Clark won the Olympic test event in Pyeongchang.Even before the injury Clark began to put her career into perspective.I’ve had one of the most wonderful snowboard careers anyone could ever hope to have and I got to a point I think after the Vancouver Games (in 2010) and I kind of looked around and I started asking myself what sort of impact was I going to leave on the sport beyond just competition results,” she said. “I didn’t want to get done and just say wow, got a string of great results, but …I started asking myself ‘What would actually make a difference?’ What I can I pour my efforts into that would outlast my ability to perform. And I started to transition as a lot of my peers started to retire and all of a sudden everybody was 16 years-old. And I was actually at an event in New Zealand this summer and if you added up Chloe and Maddy’s ages they equaled my age. I was like ‘How did this happen?She started the Kelly Clark Foundation in 2010, a non-profit that supports promising young riders and also “gets underserved youth out on the hill for the first time.” The foundation has awarded more than $150,000 in grants and scholarships. Mastro, Clark’s Olympic teammate, is one of the foundation’s recipients.I think it’s so important to give back, inspiring others but also financially finding opportunity to create opportunity,” Clark said. “Snow sports are expensive, so we look for ways to break down some of those financial barriers.This week Mastro and Kim look to extend a trail Clark first blazed for them.It’s a priviledge to be in a place where I get to inspire the next generation,” Clark said “and hopefully my ceiling will become her floor.A few days ago Clark was asked if she had any advice for her teenage teammates?I love the Olympics perhaps more than anyone,” she said. “I’m on my fifth Olympic journey I always encourage my teammates not to make the Olympics the destination. I think it’s very easy as an athlete to get caught up in this one pinnacle event every four years. I love the competition because we get to see what we’ve built. We get to work toward something and it really causes all of us greatness to come out of us at these events.But you don’t need to treat it as something that should define your career or just a destination. It should be part of your journey. Not the end of your journey.”Chloe Kim was 8 when she started noticing that, hmm, Dad seems to be home more.
Jong Jin Kim had come to Los Angeles from South Korea in 1982, with $800. He got a job as a dishwasher at a fast-food franchise, then another as a cashier at a liquor store. He saved money, went to college, got an engineering degree. He got married and had kids, got divorced and moved to Switzerland to work for a tour company that brought Koreans to Europe.That’s where he met Boran, also Korean, also working in the European tourism industry. In the inimitable words of their future daughter, Chloe: “My dad was, like, ‘Wait, you’re actually really cool, like I’m going to wife you up.They moved back to Southern California and started a family. Jong Jin owned a car wash, dabbled in real estate, worked for an engineering firm. And then one day, up and quit. Chloe was 8. Dad seemed to be home more.He knew it. She didn’t. She would become the world’s best halfpipe snowboarder, poised to become the face of the 2018 Olympics – a 17-year-old, Korean-American prodigy at a Winter Games in Korea. His new job was piloting that destiny.It was a really bold move and I can’t believe my mom was OK with it,” Kim says. “I feel like in another family that would have caused quite a storm. My dad is a very dedicated, determined person. Once he sees something he wants, he has to get it. It was nice that he was that determined to bring me to the Olympics. I’m not saying he forced me to snowboard. Like, I genuinely love snowboarding.But I didn’t think I’d go to the Olympics. I was like, ‘Dad thinks I can go to the Olympics. Whatever.He first took her to Mountain High ski resort in the San Gabriel Mountains when she was 4, less because he had any five-ring aspirations than he wanted Boran to try snowboarding and she refused. To hear Chloe tell it, “he took me as bait” because he knew Boran wouldn’t let her baby girl face the vicissitudes of the mountain without her.At 5, a coach was handing Jong Jin his business card. At 6, she finished third in her first competition. At 7, she won a junior title. At 8, Chloe and Jong Jin were living with his sister in Switzerland, waking up at 4 a.m. and taking a train to the mountains to practice.In many respects, Kim is the female Shaun White – plucked by his family from elementary school in Carlsbad, traveling from competition to competition, living out of the family van, the next great thing before he was a teen-ager, beating people twice his age, signing endorsement deals, pushing snowboarding’s envelope, transcending action sports into the marketing mainstream. Kim’s career has followed a similar arc, with similar expectations, with a similar Olympic launching pad, with similar rewards.Kim became the youngest X games medalist at 13, when she finished second behind Olympic halfpipe champion Kelly Clark. She’s the first woman to land back-to-back 1080s (three revolutions). She would have been among the favorites in Sochi four years ago, but the minimum age to compete at an Olympics is 15 and she wouldn’t turn 14 for another couple months. Instead she went to the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Norway, where she was the U.S. flagbearer at Opening Ceremony and won in both halfpipe and slopestyle.Clark, the sport’s matriarch, could see it coming, from the time when a tiny girl tugged at her sleeve and asked if she could ride the chair lift with her and then zoomed down the hill. It wasn’t long before Clark was calling representatives at Burton Snowboards and recommending they sign this kid. Now.Toyota inked her a few days after her 16th birthday.Target sponsors her.South Korea reportedly made a lucrative offer for her to compete for her parents’ homeland.I’m really excited to see where she pushes herself to, where she takes the sport to.It starts Sunday night (San Diego time) with the qualifying rounds, Monday night with the final – conveniently moved to the morning in Pyeongchang by NBC so they air live in prime time on the East Coast. America, meet Chloe.She is the first mega Olympic star born in the 2000s, a child of social media, of Snapchat and Instagram and Twitter – bubbly, effervescent, unfiltered. She’s, like, candid.On her grandmother who lives in Korea: “She’s like the cutest little old lady I’ve ever seen in my life. She’s also really sassy, which explains why my mom is really sassy, too. Like, if she doesn’t want to do something she’ll let you know straight up that she doesn’t want to do it. And you’re, ‘Whoa, Grandma, where did that come from? Simmer down.’ She’ll have her cane and like whack you.On her culinary preferences: “I really like the (Korean) bulgogi beef and rice cakes. It’s pretty good, but when I travel with my parents my mom’s always cooking Korean food, so it’s like I always want American food. It’s like, I need In-N-Out. Need to go to Chipotle. Like, KFC, where you at?On her sister’s make-up: “In Korea, it’s pretty to be really pale, like white pale. And so my oldest sister is actually more Korean than I am, I guess. She’s always putting really white make-up on her face, and I’m like, ‘If you’re going to do that at least like blend it down to your neck so you don’t have like five different colors on your body.’ I’m always yelling at my sister because she’s just embarrassing herself.On her cultural identity: “That’s a tough one. I’m so used to America. I don’t really feel a click with the Korean culture, but obviously I have a Korean face and I feel like I can’t walk around telling people I’m straight-up American. I’m Korean-American. I always get the question: ‘Where are you from? L.A. No, where are you really from? I was born in Long Beach. No, no, no, where are you really, really, really from? My parents are from Korea. Oh, OK.They both travel with her now. Boran quit her job to spent this past year on the road, too, knowing that the little girl on a snowboard at Mountain High is growing up, that everything could be different after this month, that there is talk of college and moving out of her own.That the prodigy they spawned will drop into a halfpipe in their homeland, race up its wall and launch into a twisting, spinning, soaring destiny.After every practice run down the pipe, Jong-Jin Kim races alongside his daughter, offering advice and helping her scoot through the flats.It’s been that way ever since Chloe Kim started snowboarding. And thanks to more than a few gentle nudges from dad, the 17-year-old Kim is poised to join the likes of Shaun White and Kelly Clark as Olympic champion snowboarders who have driven their sport to new heights.It started when she was little, Jong Jin said, with persistent urgings to ride switch. (For anyone who’s never ridden a board, switch is leading with the nondominant leg, a task not unlike writing with your nondominant hand.I emphasized switch all her life,” Jong-Jin said Friday as the Olympic snowboarders got their first day of practice in the PyeongChang pipe at Phoenix Park resort.
When she was riding flats, Jong-Jin told her to ride switch. When she was heading down to the chairlift after riding in the pipe, ride switch. From the top of the chair, down to the pipe: switch.Today, the Team USA star is one of the best switch riders in snowboarding. It’s almost like she doesn’t have a weakness. There is no dominant or less-dominant direction. Her frontside 1080 looks just as strong as her switch 1080. It’s a talent that has fueled her ascendancy to becoming snowboarding’s undisputed female champion.“I tell her all the time, if you go down to the chair in your regular stance, what is your benefit? Nothing. If you ride switch, you at least get advantage,” said Jong Jin who quit his engineering job almost a decade ago to help support his daughter’s snowboarding dream.There’s a saying in his home country of Korea, he said.Little dust can make a big mountain. That’s true right? Little by little,” he said. “Try to get benefit every single moment of riding. That way you get better, little bit by little bit and you don’t waste any practice time.Kim said she tries to turn the pressure to perform into an affirmation. As a leading contender for gold, that’s a good way to spin the expectations.When it does creep into the back of my mind, I try to see it in a positive way,” she said. “You know what these people who are expecting all of this out of me, they do that because they know what I can do and they believe in me. So I just think about it like that and it makes me better.He said when his California-born daughter turned 13 or 14, she stopped listening to him.Whatever I say, she ‘roar, roar, roar, go away, I don’t need you,’” he said, laughing.Jong Jin laughs a lot. And he’s undeterred by his daughter’s teenage ways. She’s doesn’t turn him away either. Each pass down the pipe, she’s waving at her mom and dad.
I emphasize a lot of switch all the time but it’s not as easy now. It’s pretty difficult now,” he said, laughing even more. “I say ‘oh Chloe can you …’ and she says ‘Dad, dad stop. You are annoying me.And there he is the next lap, jogging as she rolls through the flats, offering a tip, helping her along. And they’re both smiling.You couldn’t mistake the concern on Chloe Kim’s face. During a meeting with the media on Thursday in PyeongChang, South Korea, the 17-year-old American snowboarding phenom—who, if all goes according to plan, will win a Olympic halfpipe gold medal on the morning of Feb. 13, local time—was alarmed by the sheer number of cameras vying for her attention. South Korean reporters, in particular, kept pushing forward, with no particular concern for anyone in their path. The host country for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games has essentially adopted the teenage star as one of its own, since her parents were born in South Korea before immigrating to the U.S. The typically bubbly Kim grew momentarily uncomfortable. “It is very nerve-wracking,” she says, drawing a breath.Given Kim’s age, it would be natural for the snowboarder to grow concerned about the enormous expectations facing her. She’ll be a marquee star of NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage—the network featured her in a Super Bowl ad. But those close to her aren’t worried. U.S. Snowboard team coach Rick Bower recalls a moment from the X-Games in Aspen, Co. in late January. Needing an elite performance to clinch the fourth gold of her career, Kim turned to Bower before dropping into the pipe for her final run. “I like this,” she told Bower. “I like the pressure.” Kim landed back-to-back 1080s (three full revolutions in the air) on her way to a win. “That’s the mind frame you need going into the Olympics,” says Bower. “She’s a pretty tough customer when it comes to her mental game.”Kim has always had a level head, the rare teenager with the perspective to see missing the Olympics as a good thing. Four years ago, Kim qualified for the U.S. team in Sochi, but she was still two years shy of 15, the minimum age to compete. “Looking back on it, I’m really glad I couldn’t go,” Kim tells TIME. “I don’t know how my 13-year-old self would have dealt with it.”The wait has only heightened anticipation for the PyeongChang Olympics, where fellow Americans Kelly Clark, who won Olympic halfpipe gold 16 years ago, Arielle Gold and Maddie Mastro are also contenders for the halfpipe podium. Few can match the precocious résumé of the exuberant Kim, a Southern California native: she is the youngest snowboarder to earn a gold medal at the X Games—in 2015, at age 15—and the first female athlete to land back-to-back 1080s in competition. “She rides with incredible style and goes huge,” says American snowboarding legend Jake Burton. “She’s at the pinnacle right now.Even Kim can’t believe how high she flies. “I will be in the air, and kind of realize how far off the ground I am,” says Kim. “I’ll look down at people on top of the halfpipe, and they’re tiny, then they’ll start falling back to reality. It’s pretty weird. I haven’t gotten used to it. It kind of boggles my mind every time.”Kim was raised in Torrance, Calif., a sand-and-surf town just south of Los Angeles. But her parents were keen on family trips to the slopes, and Kim took up snowboarding at age 4. “My dad was trying to drag my mom into coming with him,” she says. “I was kind of the bait.Kim really took to snowboarding when she was 8, and her parents sent her to live with an aunt in Geneva for two years. “I realized how cool the mountains were, how the clouds are always beneath us,” she says. Kim won a junior competition in Switzerland and never looked back. She has medaled in all six of her X Games starts, including four golds, all while juggling online classes for high school.”I get a little jealous of girls going to prom and homecoming sometimes,” Kim says. “That looks really fun. Maybe I will go to prom.In PyeongChang, Kim has two countries rooting for her. The South Korean cheering section will be led by relatives, including her grandmother in Seoul, who brings local newspaper clips featuring Kim to tea parties. On a trip to the water park with teammates Wednesday, Kim acted as translator. “My parents taught me Korean,” says Kim. “I hated learning it at first. I was like, ‘Ugh, really, why do I have to do this, I live in America?’ But it’s been so useful. I can talk to my family here now.” Olympic volunteers recognize her. When she arrived at the airport in Seoul earlier in the week for this year’s Olympics, officials took Kim through a different exit to avoid press mob awaiting her. “I was really confused, because that never happens to me in America,” she says.Though Kim hasn’t grown accustomed to the crowds in PyeongChang, she’s not running from them one bit, embracing the rare opportunity to make her Winter Olympics debut in her family’s ancestral home. “The Koreans, if they don’t have anyone to cheer for in snowboarding, I want them to cheer for me,” says Kim. “Because you know what? I’ll do it for both.”The snowboarder Chloe Kim is making her Olympic debut in Pyeongchang, and, despite being just 17 years old, it is long overdue. The halfpipe phenom mathematically qualified for the Sochi Games four years ago but wasn’t old enough to compete, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, according to Kim.I’m actually kind of thankful that I wasn’t able to go, just knowing what I’m going through now, going into my first Olympics” she told the Guardian last month. “It’s pretty hectic, and I don’t know if my 13-year-old self would have been able to handle it.Now the Los Angeles-area native, who enters these Games as the gold medal favorite, is more than prepared for this moment. Despite not making it to Sochi, Kim still had a breakout season in 2014, when she became the youngest Winter X Games medalist ever. A year later, she topped the podium, winning her first of four X Games titles.Her signature style and impressive amplitude have dazzled judges and spectators for years, and her groundbreaking feats have elicited comparisons to Shaun White, another snowboarder from Southern California who found success at a young age. Aside from White, Kim is the only halfpipe rider to earn a perfect score of 100, and she did so by landing back-to-back 1080s, something no woman had ever achieved before. Kim’s precocious talent had many calling her a prodigy, but she is driven by much more than just innate ability.Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I didn’t work hard to get to where I am,” she said. “It’s not like I was just dropped onto a snowboard and I was able to go 15 feet into the air. There was a lot of hard work that came with it. That’s something that people don’t really notice sometimes and the amount of sacrifice my family made.”Kim’s parents, Jong Jin and Boran, have been crucial to her career. Originally from South Korea, Jong Jin and Boran immigrated to the US in 1998. When Jong Jin wanted to learn how to snowboard, he brought his four-year-old daughter with him and put her on a board he purchased on eBay for $40. She quickly surpassed her father, who quit his job when Chloe was seven to support her career full-time. The decision was controversial among Kim’s extended family members, several of whom still live in South Korea. What ensued was a “constant battle” that lasted for years, according to Kim. Yet Jong Jin never relented.My dad is a very determined person,” she explained.All familial dissent was quelled, perhaps by Kim’s conspicuous talent or her father’s dogged determination, by the time she was 12. The snowboarder, who speaks Korean fluently, expects to have a “big cheering squad” of relatives in Pyeongchang, and they likely won’t be alone. The host nation, with no halfpipe contenders of its own, has adopted a rooting interest in Kim because of her ancestral ties to the country. Kim’s global appeal helped her nab several big sponsors, including Olympic partners Toyota and Samsung, South Korea’s largest conglomerate. Stateside, she is one of NBC’s marquee athletes in Pyeongchang, starring in her own Super Bowl commercial ahead of the Games. Fans, sponsors and the media all have lofty expectations for Kim, but rather than let it weigh on her, she uses it as motivation.I try not to feel pressure because that kind of throws you off,” Kim said in a press conference earlier this week. “But when it does kind of creep into the back of my mind, I try to see it in a positive way, like, these people that are expecting all of this out of me do that because they know I can do it and they believe in me.The pressure will continue building until the halfpipe final on Tuesday morning in South Korea (a prime-time Monday night telecast back home). Although she is the resounding favorite, there are no sure things in the halfpipe. Kim acknowledges – and even enjoys – the uncertainty in her event.It’s a pretty crazy adrenaline rush because I feel like every run is different,” she said. “You can never really expect anything. It’s like a new adventure every time you drop into the pipe.If Kim is triumphant in Pyeongchang, her next adventure might be crossing over into the mainstream. Few Winter Olympians have been able to make the transition, but Kim has the potential to join the ranks of Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn. While she’s eager for the responsibilities that come along with that level of prominence, saying, “I always want to be a good role model,” she also yearns for the same freedom to fail that most kids her age are afforded.Realistically, I’m 17 and I make mistakes sometimes,” she said. “I don’t think anyone’s perfect. We all have our flaws.”we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading the Guardian than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. 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