BONGPYEONG-MYEON, South Korea >> Chloe Kim had a decision.
She was at the top of snowboard’s halfpipe, the final competitor in the final run of the three-run finals, and the gold was hers — no one having surpassed her score from the first run. She could play it safe, take a de facto victory lap, mess around, slash snow off the lip, have some fun.
Or she could establish her dominance over the sport.
Kim hadn’t eaten enough, tweeting 15 minutes before her final run that “wish I finished my breakfast sandwich but my stubborn self decided not to and now I’m getting hangry.”
Instead, she ate up the rest of the field.
Kim provided an exclamation point to her coronation as the queen of snowboarding and, really, of these Olympics, scoring 98.25 at Phoenix Snow Park to beat China’s Liu Jiayu by a whopping 8.5 points (consider that 6.5 points separated second through fourth place).
“I knew I was taking home the gold, which was a very insane feeling that I can’t really explain right now,” Kim said. “But I just knew that I wasn’t going to be completely satisfied taking home the gold but knowing I could do better.
“That third run was just for me, showing myself that I could do it.”
There was another reason: Kim’s Korean grandmother, who had never seen her compete live, came from Seoul and was at the bottom of the pipe. Kim found out shortly before her final run.
“This one’s for Grams,” Kim said. “Being able to put that down was awesome. I hope she enjoyed watching it. And I can’t wait to go shopping with her.”
Hunger and family have been two common themes with Kim, her secrets.
It was her Korean-born father who, after emigrating to Los Angeles, quit his job as an engineer when she was 8 to help her quench that passion. He sent her to live with an aunt in Switzerland for two years, then traveled with her on the snowboard circuit — coddling, pushing, enabling.
“My dad has definitely sacrificed a lot for me,” Kim said. “I mean, I don’t know if I could do that if I were in his shoes, just quit work and just travel with your kid full-time, leaving your wife behind and chasing after this dream with your kid because your kid is truly really passionate for it.”
Jong-jin Kim admitted he was unusually nervous before the competition started, understanding the stakes, knowing you get only three runs in the final — best score counts — and, well, it’s slippery on the walls of a 22-foot halfpipe.
“She might fall all three runs, it happens sometimes,” he said. “After she landed the first run, I enjoyed the rest of the day. It was a great moment in my life.”
That was a 93.75 that included only one 1080 (three revolutions). Kim would fall on her second run, but by then it didn’t matter. When Liu or anyone else couldn’t crack 90 on their final runs, Kim, waiting at the top of the pipe, hugged and high-fived her coaches. She was champion on the scoreboard, just not yet in her own heart.
What came next was one of the best runs in the sport’s history: Method grab, front 1080, cab 1080, front 920, McTwist, Crippler 720.
“When you work for something for so long, and it’s finally here, and you just go home with best possible outcome, it’s amazing,” said Kim, who brushed away tears on the podium. “Just realizing how far I’ve come as a person and as an athlete, standing on that podium everything just kind of combines and you realize you won and you did a good run and you’re just really excited about everything — and I don’t know what I’m saying right now.
“But I’m just really happy. Those tears were obviously tears of job.”
American Arielle Gold was third with 85.75 points. The sport’s matriarch, three-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark, was fourth at 83.50 and off the podium for the first time since 2006.
In many respects, a torch was passed. Clark, 34, won the gold medal in 2002 with a run that, she admitted, “wouldn’t even make the final today.” Kim completed back-to-back 1080s (three revolutions).
“She’s handled pressure with grace and class,” Clark said. “These women are our future. They’re just getting started.”
For that, credit the mountains of Japan. It’s where Kim went before coming to Pyeongchang, not to secretly prep on the halfpipe but to escape it. After a long season, with the pressure weighing down of being a Korean-American favorite at an Olympics in Korea at the tender age of 17, she strapped on her snowboard and rode through the powder.
And, for a few days at least, forgot about what awaited her across the Sea of Japan.
“I think that was really good for me, a nice little soul cleanse, riding something else other than a halfpipe,” Kim said. “That’s kind of what we’ve been doing all season. I mean, it’s not bad. But you get kind of sick of it after a while, riding the same thing over and over again, doing the same stuff over and over again.
“It was definitely a nice change of scenery, and I think that helped me to be a little more excited to ride halfpipe again.”
Now, onto shopping with Grandma.