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Chloe Kim: Queen of the Halfpipe

About the Episode

Chloe Kim is a bold, gravity-defying, record-breaking snowboarder. Pushing through battles with online hate and the pressures of the spotlight, Chloe became the youngest woman to ever win an Olympic snowboarding gold medal.

This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This story was produced and directed by Haley Dapkus with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written by Nicole Haroutunian and edited by Abby Sher. Fact-checking by Joe Rhatigan. Narration by Chloe Madriaga. Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi. Thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team who make this podcast possible. Stay rebel!

Transcript

Chloe Kim was four years old…and confused. Her dad told her they were going to have fun, but then he lined her snow pants with a cut-up yoga mat! She made a goofy squeaky sound when she moved. She squeaked out the door and on the car ride and as they rode together on the chairlift. Then, Chloe’s dad strapped her feet to a board and pushed her down a big snowy hill! 

Whoa! It was tricky to find her balance and stay upright. Freezing wind numbed her face, making tiny icicles on her eyelashes. But her dad was right, she WAS having fun! She sailed smoothly almost all the way down the hill before she tumbled down into the snow. But wait—it didn’t hurt! Oh! That’s what the yoga mat was for—padding. Chloe was thrilled. She wanted to go again and again!

With that first blissful run, Chloe’s dad introduced her to what would be an incredible lifelong passion — snowboarding.

Right from the beginning, Chloe clearly had a special talent for this gravity-defying sport. She soon started to learn amazing acrobatic, high-flying snowboarding tricks. If she couldn’t make it to the slopes, she headed to the local playground. She climbed the tallest slide, strapped on her board, and swiiiish!

 As Chloe grew older, her training intensified. Picture her, age ten, fast asleep in bed. It was 2 am when her dad tiptoed in. “Chloe?” 

“Mmm churros?”

Chloe was in the middle of a dream about her favorite dessert. 

Her dad laughed and tugged off her blankets. Snowboarding practice was at 7am…and the mountain was five hours away. C’mon—it was time to go!

Chloe sacrificed a lot for snowboarding—her sleep, her free time, her weekends—but by the time she was just thirteen, she was on the US National Team, and competing in a huge international competition called the X Games. 

At the X Games, Chloe competed in an event called the SuperPipe, which is a very long, 22-foot-tall half pipe made of packed snow. 

For her first two tricks, Chloe soared into the air and twisted her body into complicated poses. Her landings weren’t perfect, but she didn’t fall. She knew she had more in her though. For her final trick, she planned to do a McTwist, which was very challenging. She had to rotate one and a half times WHILE flipping upside down in the air. And—the toughest part— she planned to grab the board with one hand, for extra points. 

While Chloe was preparing to push off, she made a quick calculation. She realized that in order to win, she needed to make the McTwist even harder. She’d have to fly up, spin twice, and add a DOUBLE GRAB to the board. She was already sailing down the hill, but Chloe decided she had to try. She launched off the pipe and gave it her all – soaring, flipping, twisting, grabbing. And then- she landed it! The crowd went wild. She’d made a game time decision in midair and earned a silver medal. It was incredible!

 That night, Chloe’s phone was blowing up with DMs from snowboarding fans. She was giddy reading them. But then, her heart sank. There was one…no two…no three…oh so many mean messages mixed in with the encouraging ones. Chloe’s eyes stung with tears. 

You see, Chloe was a Korean-American girl in a traditionally very white and male sport, and some people resented her success. Their messages accused her of stealing attention from her white teammates. Chloe was crushed. She climbed into bed, pulled the covers up over her head, and cried herself to sleep on what should have been the happiest night of her life. 

Chloe didn’t give up though. 

She kept on practicing her tricks and daring herself to try new skills. She was determined to go to the Olympic Games, and when she was seventeen, she finally got her chance. It was especially momentous for her, because the Olympics were being held in South Korea that year, which was where her parents were from! 

Chloe felt like she was connecting to her past and claiming her future. She was so excited to get big air and make history!

On her very first run, Chloe scored high enough to secure a gold medal. The announcers called her second run “the cherry on top” but she didn’t see it that way. 

Poised at the top of the slope, surrounded by South Korea’s pristine mountains, bare winter trees, and clear, ice blue sky, Chloe listened to the crowd cheering her on and launched into her second run. 

First, she whooshed into the halfpipe and whip-whip-whipped a 1080—twisting her body all the way around three times. Then she landed, zoomed up the other side, and whip-whip-whipped her second 1080 in a row! It was jaw-dropping. She was the youngest woman to have ever accomplished these tricks back-to-back at the Olympics. Chloe earned a near perfect score, and became the youngest woman to ever win the snowboarding Olympic gold.

After the ceremony, Chloe’s family gathered around her in their home in South Korea. Chloe lifted her gold medal from her neck, and placed it around her grandmother’s. Her parents tried it on, too. They all laughed, and cheered, and wiped happy tears from their eyes.

After her win at the Olympics, Chloe became very famous. But with more fame, came more upsetting messages.

Some cruel people were calling her all sorts of names. And it felt like even the people with good intentions wanted answers from her. As if she could speak on behalf of all Asian-Americans. 

Chloe was heartbroken. This isn’t healthy, she thought. Although many in her community, and even in her family, didn’t understand it, she started therapy. She also decided she needed a break from snowboarding and the spotlight. 

So—she enrolled in college and took some time to fill her brain with new ideas and live the life of a student. A long break from training would be hard on many people’s careers, but not Chloe’s. Instead of getting rusty, it was like Chloe mentally and physically rested. When she came back to the slopes, Chloe was stronger than ever. 

With renewed energy and determination, Chloe made her way to the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China. This time, she flew 12 feet above the snow, nailed each of her most impressive tricks, and took home the gold medal in Women’s Snowboarding Half Pipe! With this, Chloe became the first woman to ever win multiple gold medals in this event.

Even though Chloe has stood on the Olympic podium twice now, she worries about being put on a pedestal in her everyday life. She doesn’t want to have to be perfect all the time, or to always know what to say when confronting hate. What’s most important to Chloe is showing love for everyone and flying down the pipe. 

As she says, “It’s really hard to find the perfect words that will encourage people…The only way I can do that is through my story.” 

From her yoga mat tumbles to her Olympic medals, Chloe shows us that being a rebel means being a work in progress. We all deserve the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. And to encourage others to do the same.

Because no matter where her success takes her, a perfect day for Chloe is still just her, her board, and carving through some freshly fallen snow.