The Stunning Transformation Of U.S. Olympian Chloe Kim

Even if you're not a snowboarding fan, you've probably heard of Chloe Kim. How could you not after her history-making run at the 2018 Olympics? The official website for the Games calls her "arguably the greatest female snowboarder of all time," which is especially impressive considering she was born in 2000.

The Korean American athlete won gold at the Olympics in 2018, scoring a whopping 98.25 points on the halfpipe. That win also made her the youngest gold medalist in her event ever, not to mention the first snowboarder to win at the Olympics, Worlds, Youth Olympics, and X Games. Needless to say, Kim is a big deal.

How did she get to the top of the snowboarding game at such a young age? That comes down to a lot of hard work and dedication. Here's a closer look at her stunning, transformative journey from a young child snowboarding with her dad to becoming one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Her dad nurtured her talent for snowboarding as a child

Chloe Kim was just a little girl when she first set foot on a snowboard, but it was her dad, Jong Jin Kim, who fell in love with the sport first. Chloe told Vogue that he brought her along for company, saying, "My father didn't want to ski alone, so he took me up to the mountains in order to basically bribe my mom to come with him."

She entered her first competition at the age of 6. When she was 8, she won the junior nationals. Chloe's dad, a mechanical engineer, nurtured her talent and helped her get to the top of the snowboarding world. When the local slopes near their Southern California home no longer posed a challenge, her dad would drive her several hours to the town of Mammoth Lakes, which had more intense slopes for her to practice. He eventually quit his job in order to help her train — sometimes in ingenious ways. "In off-​season training, we'd go to a park and he'd strap a snowboard on my feet, and I would go down the slide and learn how to do tricks," she revealed to Vogue.

Chloe Kim lived in Switzerland for two years

While Chloe Kim showed early promise, her childhood wasn't completely centered on snowboarding. When she was 8, her parents sent her to live with an aunt in Switzerland where she attended third and fourth grade. Per Time for Kids, Kim felt out of place in another country, being the only student of Asian descent at her school and feeling like an outsider.

Of course, she didn't entirely abandon snowboarding during this time. Her dad regularly visited her, where they'd hit the slopes together and continue her training. While the mountainous country is known for its cold-weather sports, her dad made it clear to USA Today that the Kim family's reasons for sending their daughter to Europe had nothing to do with snowboarding. As her dad explained, they weren't even thinking of the possibility that she might go to the Olympics one day. "So the reason Chloe went to Switzerland is not because of snowboard[ing]," he told the outlet. "It's because I want her to learn French."

Kim did learn French and moved back to the States a couple of years later. Soon, snowboarding training became a full-time occupation, and she switched to home schooling to allow for more time to hit the slopes (per USA Today). From there, her career really took off.

At 13, she joined the U.S. national snowboarding team

Chloe Kim was just 13 years old when she joined the U.S. national team, notes Time, winning a silver medal in the halfpipe event at the 2014 X Games. She was already an Olympic contender by that point but was ineligible for the 2014 Winter Olympics, as she was too young. Kim found plenty to fill her time before the 2018 Olympics, though, winning a slew of medals in that four-year span, including a gold medal at the 2016 Youth Olympics in Lillehammer.

Many of her competitions in her early teens made history. Her Olympic bio notes that, in 2015, at age 14, Kim became the youngest gold medalist in X Games history. The following year, she became the first woman to land back-to-back 1080s at the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix. That same year, she earned three gold medals at the X Games, again making history — no one had earned three gold medals under the age of 16 before. Talk about impressive!

She tried to distance herself from her Korean heritage after experiencing racism

Unfortunately, Chloe Kim's incredible success attracted a lot of haters over the years. That may be par for the course for people in the public eye, but Kim's ethnicity meant she was also targeted by racists. An Instagram post celebrating her silver medal at the 2014 X Games led to hateful comments in her inbox, including ones accusing her of "stealing" thunder from her white teammates. "I ended up crying myself to sleep on the best night of my life," she told Time.

Making the situation even more difficult was that none of her teammates could understand what she was going through, as she was the only Asian American on the team. "At that point, you're like, '[Okay], who can I turn to? Who has probably dealt with this before?'" she recalled. "I would constantly look for anyone. But there was no one."

In an interview with ESPN several years later, Kim said that "people belittled my accomplishment because I was Asian," which led her to attempt to distance herself from her heritage. She revealed that she became uncomfortable speaking Korean in public and even pretended she didn't know the language at all when asked about it — in spite of being fluent. "I was so ashamed and embarrassed and hated that I was Asian," she admitted.

Chloe Kim made the U.S. and South Korea proud with her 2018 Olympic win

By the time the 2018 Winter Olympics rolled around, Chloe Kim was finally old enough to compete. Her gold medal win in PyeongChang was especially meaningful, as her parents are from South Korea, and she was able to celebrate with members of her family who still live in the country. "The night before leaving Korea, we all gathered at our home, and Chloe's grandmother got to try on the medal," Kim's mom, Boran, told Time. "We each got to try it on. So we celebrated in that way."

While Kim won gold for the U.S., South Korea also celebrated her victory, with the local media lauding her near-perfect halfpipe score of 98.75. "It means a lot just being able to do it where my family is from," said the 17-year-old in a press conference (via ABC News). "A lot of pressure, but I'm happy I was able to do it here and do it for the fans and the family. It was a really fun moment for everyone."

Kim was already something of a media darling before her Olympic win, though. When she first wowed crowds with back-to-back 1080 spins in 2016, Seoul Broadcasting System released a two-minute documentary on the athlete (via ABC News). Her Olympic victory only cemented fame.

A Barbie doll was released in her honor

Chloe Kim is not just an icon, but a historic figure. That accomplishment was recognized by no less than Mattel when the toy brand released a Barbie doll in honor of her achievements in 2018. The doll was one of 17 that Mattel released that year for International Women's Day recognizing "sheroes" like filmmaker Patty Jenkins and artist Frida Kahlo. "Barbie honors women who have broken boundaries in their fields and have been an inspiration to the next generation of girls with a one-of-a-kind doll made in their likeness," Mattel said in a statement of the commemorative doll (via Time). 

The release of the doll was also significant, as there have been few Barbie dolls representing Asians over the years — and many of those that hit shelves have been problematic, noted The Boston Globe

Kim was thrilled with the honor, tweeting, "Ahh! Im so happy to be honored as a @Barbie Shero alongside these incredible women!"

The athlete struggled to adjust to her fame after winning the Olympics

Winning Olympic gold in 2018 was a dream come true for Chloe Kim, but her success also came with some drawbacks. Kim found herself overwhelmed by her fame, even going so far as to (briefly) throw out her hard-earned medal. "I hated life," she admitted to Time.

Fans flocked to her when she left the house, sparking even more irritation. "It makes you angry," she said. "I just wanted a day where I was left alone. And it's impossible." While Kim made it clear that she loves her fans, she said she was coming off of "the most exhausting two months of my life" and needed some peace and quiet.

In an appearance on the show "Cold As Balls" with Kevin Hart, Kim spoke about the pressure that comes with being a high-profile athlete and how it impacts her. "Some days I just can't do it, I can't figure it out," she confessed.

After the Olympics, Chloe Kim headed to Princeton

Chloe Kim graduated from La Palma Christian School in 2018, the same year she won Olympic gold. Those are two big accomplishments for one year, so it's no wonder she needed a break from the spotlight and decided to head to college — at an Ivy League school, no less.

Kim told ESPN that the "emptiness" she felt after the Olympics was her breaking point. She needed to make a change, and the decision to go off to school proved to be transformative. She enrolled at Princeton in the fall of 2019. "I wanted to be around different people and hear their stories and what their lives are like," she explained.

Kim got an education in more ways than one, saying that making new friends and learning about their different backgrounds and viewpoints helped her grow as a person. She called going to Princeton "the best thing I could have done," telling ESPN, "It helped me to be more open-minded and empathetic."

While at Princeton, Kim tried her best to blend in with her peers. She told Time that she would frequently turn down requests for photographs, telling fans, "I want to be like everyone else." While this gave her a reputation as a surly figure, things slowly improved as the novelty of having an Olympian on campus wore off.

She sought treatment for her mental health

Unfortunately, Chloe Kim's time at Princeton was short-lived due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The campus shut down in March 2020, and Kim decided to revert her focus to snowboarding. She also prioritized herself, making the decision to go to therapy. The frustration she felt after winning Olympic gold hadn't improved, and she realized it was time to get help.

Kim told The New York Times that she had been dealing with depression, saying that even watching the news was overwhelming. "I was really tired all the time," she said. "I slept a lot. I wasn't motivated to do anything. It was hard for me to get out of bed and go take care of myself."

The decision to go to therapy has helped her a lot and improved her life significantly. "Just being able to let those things out that you just tuck in your little secret part of your heart helps a lot," she told Time. "I feel much more at peace now."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

The Olympic snowboarder blew audiences away on The Masked Singer

Chloe Kim stunned the world with another talent in 2020 when she was unveiled as the Jellyfish on the reality singing competition "The Masked Singer," in which celebrities perform disguised by elaborate costumes as a panel of judges tries to guess their identities. While Kim didn't win the competition, she wowed audiences with her singing voice. She explained to Entertainment Weekly that, while she's no stranger to karaoke nights, she has no formal vocal training. She's simply a music lover who enjoys singing and is self-taught on the guitar. "Singing is actually really therapeutic for me when I'm stressed or something," she said.

Kim revealed to the magazine that she had a vocal coach while on the show, which helped her strengthen her vocal chops. "It was honestly the best experience ever," she told the magazine. "I'm so grateful." That being said, it was a different type of competition than she was used to, and Kim admitted that her performances made her even more nervous than competing in the Olympics. "I know some people are gonna find that hard to believe, but I feel like going into the Olympics ... I had a lot of people telling me what to expect," she explained.

She's speaking out against anti-Asian hate

While Chloe Kim wasn't always proud of her Asian heritage, these days she's happy to be Korean American — but she's also scared. In a 2021 interview with ESPN, she shared her experience with anti-Asian hate, writing about the harassment and racism she has dealt with as well as the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Per Stop AAPI Hate, more than 9,000 incidents were reported to the organization from March 19, 2020, to June 30, 2021. "My dad gets verbally harassed, but my mom gets fetishized," wrote Kim in the heartfelt piece. She added, "Am I fearful for my parents? All the time. This fear didn't start because of the recent attacks. This is not new. It's old news, but now we see the attacks and hear the stories."

Kim outlined the racism she has experienced throughout her life, as well as the fear she has for her parents. While it has been a difficult journey for her, she thinks it's important to use her platform to speak out. "I was nervous to share my experiences with racism, but we need to hear more of these conversations," she said.

If you or a loved one has experienced a hate crime, contact the VictimConnect Hotline by phone at 1-855-4-VICTIM or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services to help. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Chloe Kim is ready to win gold again

Get used to seeing Chloe Kim win Olympic gold. The Olympics website predicts that she "could conceivably compete at several more Winter Olympics," but up first are the upcoming Games in Beijing. Once again, Kim is a favorite to bring home the gold, and she is more than ready to crush the competition.

Kim plans to perform three new tricks at the Olympics, describing them to Time as "an upgrade from everything I've done." The pressure is on, and she's hyperaware of it. "Don't have too many expectations," she told the outlet. "Just let me vibe. I'm just trying to chill." Though Kim said she was "just kidding," she added, "You just expect a lot out of me."

While the pandemic meant she went a couple of years without competing, Kim worked out all of her nerves about returning to competitive snowboarding at the 2021 World Cup. She told Vogue that she "was hyperventilating" at first but worked through the anxiety. Now, she's back to competing and more prepared than ever. "I won that event, somehow—and that really brought my confidence back," she said.

As for college, she might go back one day, but, for now, she's focused on her snowboarding career. Whatever she decides to do, her parents have her back. While her mom, Boran, told Time that she'd like her daughter to return to Princeton, she said her daughter's "happiness comes first." She added, "I support her decisions."