Where EAST meets the Northwest
OLYMPIC AFTERMATH. Women’s halfpipe gold medallist Chloe Kim of the United
States poses during the medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in
PyeongChang, South Korea. Several weeks after winning at the Olympics and
transforming herself from a mere snowboarder into a full-fledged celebrity, the
17-year-old Kim conceded she never realized what a big deal her victory would
be. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
From The Asian Reporter, V28, #6 (March 19, 2018), page 8.
After Olympic win, Chloe Kim puts fame, fun in perspective
By Eddie Pells
AP National Writer
VAIL, Colo. — In between the dozens of media appearances that have suddenly
become her new day job, Chloe Kim slipped away from the lunch table, disappeared
into the restroom, pulled the gold medal out of her bag ... and just sat there
and stared at it.
"My parents were like, ‘Why did it take you so long?’" Kim said. "I said,
‘Just looking at it.’ I was thinking about what this means to me and letting it
Several weeks since the 17-year-old transformed herself from a mere
snowboarding sensation into a full-fledged celebrity, Kim concedes she never
realized what a big deal her victory would be.
She’s just as in touch with the idea that she’s not really sure what to make
of it yet, either.
"I don’t think you’re supposed to know how to feel," she said in the lead-up
to the Burton U.S. Open, where she went for one of the most prestigious halfpipe
titles this side of the Olympics — and took first place. "It’s something I’d
been working on for so long that when it happened, it was, ‘What do I do now?
What am I supposed to do with my life now?’"
In that respect, she’s not unlike the 100-or-so champions who emerge from the
Winter Olympics every four years — niche-sports stars who suddenly find
themselves with mainstream cred.
But Kim’s backstory — her folks were born and raised in South Korea, which
just happened to be hosting the Olympics — to say nothing of her
once-in-a-generation talent and her made-for-Instagram personality, transcends
beyond that of the typical gold medallist.
It’s why, since her gold-medal run in PyeongChang, she has graced the cover
of Sports Illustrated, been on set with Jimmy Fallon and James Corden,
and had her face splashed on the front of a Corn Flakes box. It’s why, within
six days, she received a shoutout at the Oscars from Frances McDormand during
her acceptance speech for best actress, and also had a Barbie doll fashioned
after her as part of a line of "Inspiring Women" that also includes Amelia
"Really rad," Kim said, before revealing an awkward truth about herself and
Barbie dolls. "I personally didn’t play with dolls much. I was more into doll
animals. I had a giant (stuffed) horse in my room. But I always walked by them
in the store and thought they were super cool."
With that disarming blend of authenticity and charm, it’s no wonder the
sponsors are as drawn to her as her fans.
Since she left South Korea, Kim’s following on Instagram — and, yes, she
keeps track — has doubled once again, to 753,000 and counting. Meanwhile, going
out on the street, or going out to eat, has become more of a challenge.
"I can still go to a restaurant, you just turn a lot more heads," Kim says.
"But I hate it when people watch me eat. I literally eat like a lizard."
Kim got into snowboarding because she loved snowboarding. Becoming famous was
not part of that plan, and she says there’s a downside to it, as well.
Over the past month, she has been hounded by paparazzi: "TMZ was outside my
hotel. I wasn’t expecting it at all," she said. And she has seen the
less-than-inspiring messages from people who question her American-ness because
of her Asian heritage.
"It hurt to hear that," she said. "At the same time, it feels good to
represent Asian Americans who deal with that and it’s good to see the true fans
who defend me and say, ‘She won a medal for America. Would you rather she did it
In the lead-up to the Olympics, Kim came off, at least publicly, as much more
scripted than she is now — not all that unexpected given her age and the journey
she was embarking on. Something changed, beginning with her engaging, hilarious
news conference after the gold medal, in which she called out her dad for his
seeming lack of emotion after her win: "My dad didn’t cry, which I don’t get at
all. I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’" she said.
She claims to have done 600 interviews and become so deft at the craft that
"I can definitely have a 17-year-old answer, and I can have a 35-year-old
One of the "35-year-old answers" had to do with the unexpected ups and downs
of becoming more famous than she ever imagined.
It had to do with the first time she ever saw an avocado.
"I didn’t want to eat it, but I ate it and it was amazing," she said. "That’s
kind of how I felt with fame. Some of it does kind of suck. One person screams
your name, people come running at you, and you can’t go where you want. But at
the same time, you get to make those people happy, listen to their stories. I
think that’s important. You meet really rad people who love what you do and have
the same passion as you."
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