Being First Is Not New for Chloe Kim

Photo: ROXY

Being the first is nothing new for snowboarder Chloe Kim. She was the youngest-ever gold medalist at the X Games by age 14. Three years later, Kim, who is Korean American, won gold at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, becoming the youngest female Olympic-gold medalist in her sport’s history.

But being first comes with consequences alongside the accolades. “My life changed completely overnight after one big accomplishment,” Kim said of the intense surge in popularity that came with her performance in Pyeongchang. “It was hard to adapt to this new life … I really was resentful for a long time.” When she came home from the Games, she threw her gold medal in the trash. The following year, Kim broke her ankle and enrolled at Princeton, but she returned to competitive snowboarding when the campus closed in March 2020. Kim dominated on the world stage during the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, winning consecutive golds in the half-pipe — once again, the first woman ever to do so. But when she went for a 1260 (or, three-and-a-half aerial rotations) she didn’t land it. That disappointment didn’t stop Kim, whose mind-set has evolved with her snowboarding skills. “I’m at the point in my career right now where I really want to enjoy it,” she said. “I want to try to be kind to myself.”

In January, at the end of her final run in the X Games Aspen, Kim finally landed the 1260 — the first woman to do it. (Unsurprisingly, she also won her seventh X Games Aspen title that day.) The Cut sat down with Kim shortly after her win to learn what was on her mind during her run, what excites her about women’s sports, and what all these firsts feel like.

Can you describe what’s going on in your mind when you’re midair? 

Nothing, really! The most thinking comes when we’re standing at the top. I am somebody who loves to take my time before I drop in. The biggest thing for me is safety. I want to come home in one piece. I like to take a breath and reset, visualize quickly in my head, cue up a good song, and go when I feel like I’m ready.

Did you get nervous beforehand, or feel pressure to compete in Aspen? 

Not really. I’ve done these events so many times. I’ve been snowboarding for 20 years and I’ve been competing at a super-high level for 10, 11 years. You can imagine the burnout and stress and pressure I’ve endured. But I now realize there’s so much more to my life than these competitions. I am more than just a professional snowboarder and an athlete; I’m also a human being. Because of all those things I’ve told myself, I’ve been able to mitigate the pressure a bit and handle it a lot better.

How did you motivate yourself to try the 1260 again? 

In the most humble way possible: I just won my seventh X Games gold medal and every other event I’ve done, I’ve won multiple times. Winning contests is great, but I would rather win by doing something that’s never been done.

As I look at my accomplishments, the ones that mean the most to me, the ones that I look at and smile at, are the moments where I pushed through a really hard time or I was able to do something that’s never been done before. As an athlete, I take pride in those moments as opposed to looking at another gold-medal trophy and being like, Oh, well, I did a run and I landed.

How do you protect your mental health?

I don’t know if you actually can. It is a constant cycle of blood, sweat, tears, accomplishments, back to blood, sweat, tears to another accomplishment — or sometimes no accomplishment at all. So how do you really protect yourself from that?

I try to make sure that at my core and in my soul, I’m okay and doing damage control as I go, doing things that are soothing for me, whether it’s going on a two-hour walk after a hard day, or taking a bath, or going to a spa and getting a massage. Then when I come home, that’s when I can recover and heal and prepare myself to do it all again.

What did it feel like to be the first woman to do a 1260 in a competition? 

It makes me think about how many women came before me and how those women inspired me to continue to push the boundaries of the sport.

I’m going to be on my way out soon, and there’s going to be a whole new generation that’s taking over. Doing everything I can to inspire them and set them on the right path means the world to me.

What excites you about what’s going on in snowboarding or in women’s sports generally? 

I think we’re pretty badass. To see that people finally think the same, that gives so much confidence to other women out there. For so long, there’s been this misogyny that came with women’s sports, talking about how we’re not as good as the guys, boring to watch, la-di da-di da. But I don’t think that’s really the case anymore. I mean, we do incredible things and we look hot doing them. So that’s a double whammy right there. There’s so much more coverage now and so much more attention on women’s sports. We’re finally getting that recognition that we’ve deserved for far too long.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

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Being First Is Not New for Chloe Kim