Chloe Kim cruises into Olympic halfpipe final, but taking nothing for granted

Chloe Kim competes in Olympic Qualifying at Snowboard - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 2
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Defending gold medalist Chloe Kim cruised into the Olympic final of the women’s snowboarding halfpipe competition on Wednesday, with announcers describing her 87.75 qualifying run as “low gear” and “a walk in the park.”

But the 21-year-old is taking nothing for granted ahead of her 2018 title defense. After posting the top score in the first run of qualifying, she experimented on her second run, falling after the second hit.

Video of Chloe Kim competing in halfpipe qualifying at the 2022 Winter Olympics: 

“I was really nervous my first run, because we’re at the Olympics,” Kim told NBC Olympics reporter Randy Moss. “But I’m so happy that I put one down, and I just wanted to mess around with my second run, try something I’ve never really done before, so I’m surprised I made it that far.”

Kim leading the field into the final likely surprised no one, but it might be hard to believe the Southern California native tossed her gold medal into the trash not too long after coming home from PyeongChang.

Watch Chloe Kim compete in women’s snowboard halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics:

Event Date / Start Time (U.S. Eastern Time) Date / Start Time (China)
Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe (Final) 2/9/22 8:30 PM 2/10/22 9:30 AM

Just 17 years old at the time, Kim described her experience after winning as “something incredibly difficult to overcome,” unprepared to be recognized everywhere she went or have people try to break into her home after finding out where she lived.

“The only thing that I could blame was that medal, but don’t worry – I got it out of the trash,” she told media before the Games.

Incorporating her new-found fame with the teenager she still was – and the competitor she still wanted to be – led to what Kim described as “burn out.”

“The Olympic year would have been when I would go to prom,” she recalled. “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.”

She stepped back from competition for nearly two years and completed her freshman year at Princeton. But the break did nothing to hinder her performance: Kim has won every halfpipe event in which she’s competed since PyeongChang. She stands as the first and only snowboarder to win titles at all four “majors,” including the Winter Olympics, two World Championship titles, six X Games gold medals and the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games. In World Cup competition, Kim has two crystal globes and 10 wins in 14 World Cup starts.

“Going back to snowboarding was always the plan,” she said. “I just wanted to experience something different for a little bit.”

But Kim said she also learned a valuable lesson: “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.”

She’s also got perspective on her side, noting, “I don’t know how many more Games I’m going to do, so I’m definitely embracing the experience as much as possible.”

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In the women’s halfpipe final, Kim will try to keep pushing the American trend in halfpipe, where U.S. women have won the last four gold medals and have collected 10 out of 18 medals available since snowboarding made its debut in 1998 in Nagano.

She’ll find some of her toughest competition from Spaniard Queralt Castellet, who’s aiming to become the first woman medalist from Spain at the Winter Olympics since Blanca Fernandez Ochoa won bronze in the women’s slalom in 1992.

The 32-year-old Castellet, who is working with two-time U.S. Olympic halfpipe silver medalist Danny Kass, is the only woman halfpipe rider competing at her fifth Winter Games.

Seven-time crystal globe winner Cai Xuetong led three Chinese riders in the final, including 2018 silver medalist Liu Jiaya. Canada’s 16-year-old Brooke D’Hondt is the youngest rider in the final, while Japan’s Ono Mitsuki looks to follow up on her 2020 Youth Olympics gold. Ono’s teammates include sisters Sena and Ruki Tomita, who both qualified for the final.

Maddie Mastro, who earned silver at the 2021 worlds and X Games competitions, finished 13th in qualifying and missed the final, as did fellow U.S. athletes Tessa Maud and Zoe Kalapos, who finished 16th and 17th, respectively.

On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi and the NBC Olympics research team contributed to this report. 

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