PYEONGCHANG: At just 17, American snowboarding sensation Chloe Kim looks set to become the face of the Pyeongchang Games — no pressure then!
The Californian girl with Korean parents got a taste of Olympic-mania on Thursday when a news conference turned into a rugby scrum as the world’s media clambered to get a piece of the gold medal hope.
In the absence of a truly transcendent athlete such as figure skater Kim Yuna, South Koreans are looking to claim Kim as one of their own.
“It is very nerve-wracking,” halfpipe star Kim told reporters. “I think this is the craziest place I’ve been with all these cameras.
“I was warned there was going to be a lot of press,” she added with a nervous smile.
“Competing at my first Olympics in the country where my parents came from is pretty insane. It’s kind of a crazy coincidence.”
Kim, who loves the beach, music and the mall almost as much as she does busting out her eye-popping snowboarding tricks, was so good at 13 she might have won gold at the Sochi Olympics.
Two years under the minimum age requirement then, fate decreed she would get her chance in South Korea, meaning her biggest fan — her grandmother, who enjoys boasting about Chloe’s exploits over tea — will be able to cheer her on for the first time.
“I grew up in a very Korean environment,” said Kim, her blond-streaked hair tied in a bun.
“My parents are very proud of Korea and there are lots of Koreans in LA, so I don’t feel completely isolated from the culture,” she added.
“I always ate Korean food and I feel like I grew up with both cultures. My parents are both really excited to be here and my grandma is out here cheering me on so it will be a really fun experience for the whole family.”
Kim revealed she has been acting as an interpreter for the American snowboarding team since arriving in Pyeongchang, but the four-time X Games champion is itching to get started.
“I’ve just been going crazy honestly because I haven’t been snowboarding yet and I’ve just been dying in my room,” said Kim, who will be a hot favourite if she executes. “When I’m at a contest the halfpipe feels like home.”
After a recent commercial during the Super Bowl raised her profile further in the United States, a gold medal in Pyeongchang could see Kim cash in with sponsorship mega-deals.
But for now, she’s just soaking in her first Olympics.
“Coming to the Olympics was a big dream of mine since I was a baby so just being here now is unreal,” said Kim, who superstitiously taps on her board before dropping in to “unjinx” herself.
“Just trying on the team uniforms was so surreal and I almost started crying because I was like ‘you made it!’
“We basically went through hell and back to get here — I haven’t been home in forever,” Kim added.
“When I was home I’d be home for half a day to repack and get on the plane again so it’s been a crazy journey.” —AFP