This article is part of our Beijing Olympics series.
The last time the world saw Chloe Kim compete at the Olympics, the 17-year-old so thoroughly toppled the field that she earned the tacit flex of a victory lap. Kim had already captured the hearts of millions of people with relatable social media fare on food cravings, and she had handily defeated her competition in the women’s halfpipe by a full 4.0 points. But she still needed to get to the bottom of the course in Pyeongchang before the official celebration could commence.
Rather than breeze past the jumps that accompany a typical path through the halfpipe, Kim used the run to reset her winning score behind back-to-back 1080s (three full rotations) and a frontside 900. “It was the best run that she’s ever done,” said Rick Bower, then the halfpipe coach of the U.S. snowboard team. That may have been selling the performance short: No woman had ever landed consecutive 1080s at the Olympics,1 and the win made Kim the youngest woman ever to win a gold medal in the sport. (She might have medaled four years earlier in Sochi but was ineligible to compete at just 13 years old.)
That dominance continued throughout 2018, as Kim pioneered another trick — the frontside double cork 1080 (three full rotations on two different axes)2 — and became the first halfpipe rider to sweep the Olympics, the X Games and the U.S. Open in a calendar year.
Four years later, Kim continues to set the tone for her peers. An anguished transition to celebrity life resulted in Kim leaving the sport for 22 months to briefly enroll at Princeton. She returned to snowboarding in January 2021 and has won every competition since: first the Laax Open, then the World Championship, then the U.S. Grand Prix, then the Laax Open again. Three of those four wins have had margins wider than 4.0 points, including the 2021 Laax Open, which was decided by a staggering 13.25.
Such is Kim’s dominance that any result less than gold in Beijing would register as an earthquake.
“She is the greatest women’s snowboarder of all time,” said Arielle Gold, who won a bronze medal in the halfpipe in Pyeongchang. “By far.”
Kim is the Olympic, Youth Olympic, World and six-time X Games champion in the halfpipe, the first athlete to hold all four titles. She has appeared in 29 career halfpipe events3 and has won 22 times, including each of her past 11 starts. The margin for error in snowboarding is as thin as the board, and with each rider given just a handful of runs at each event, unmitigated dominance is incredibly rare. Kim has missed the podium only twice in her 14-start World Cup career and is undefeated at world championships and Olympics. She has never missed the podium in eight appearances at the X Games.
Kim will join U.S. snowboarding legend Shaun White as one of the most marketable athletes in Beijing. And although she’s 14 years younger than the Flying Tomato, Kim already has a legacy that rivals his.
White certainly has the edge in X Games dominance, where he’s the most decorated rider of all time,4 and Olympic snowboarding, where he holds the record for career gold medals (3) and is tied for the record in career total medals (3), according to Olympedia.
But efficiency favors Kim, who in 26 fewer starts in halfpipe events has just two fewer victories. If Kim’s dominance holds, it won’t take long for her resume to eclipse just about every rider that came before her.
“She’s pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for women’s snowboarding,” said Gold. “She’s doing tricks that some of the men don’t even want to. It’s pretty crazy.”
Those never-seen-before tricks should be on display in Beijing, where Kim said she plans to unveil three new ones. “They’re an upgrade from everything I’ve done,” she said. “I’m going to go off.”
Rare is the sport without so much as a lukewarm argument over its GOAT. There simply isn’t one to be one had in the halfpipe of women’s snowboarding. The event has come a long way since Germany’s Nicola Thost won the inaugural gold medal at the 1998 Olympics in Japan while No Doubt’s “I’m Just a Girl” blasted from the speakers. Kim has done her part to take the sport to new heights, with each drop-in an opportunity to innovate.