Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Team USA
PLAYERS & TEAM EARNINGS

Chloe Kim: From Phenom to Advocate

The defending gold medalist snowboarder looks to make history while sharing her own mental health journey.

At just 21 years old, Chloe Kim is already the best at her craft, the face of snowboarding, and one of the most recognizable Olympians in the world. But heading into her second Games, the reigning halfpipe gold medalist is competing as something bigger: a mental health advocate.

Kim flew into the snowboarding spotlight at a young age, as the only athlete in X Games history to win three gold medals before the age of 16. She would have been an Olympian at 13 as well, if the Games didn’t have an age requirement. But at 17 in PyeongChang, she made more history as the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboarding gold, officially placing her on the global stage as a bonafide superstar.

  • Instagram followers: 723K
  • Twitter followers: 264K
  • Key endorsements: Grubhub, Monster Energy, Nike, Oakley, Roxy, SKIMS, Toyota
  • Top Achievements: Olympic gold medal, six X Games gold medals, two World Championships

But with global superstardom — complete with her own Barbie doll, Corn Flakes box, and an appearance on “The Masked Singer” — comes immense pressure, expectations of continued success, a lack of privacy, and constant social media harassment. The physical and emotional comedown from Kim’s historic PyeongChang Games even led to her throwing her gold medal in the trash at one point.

In an open and honest pre-Olympics TIME Magazine cover story, Kim reflected on her challenges after winning gold four years ago and her mental health journey since.

“I hated life,” Kim shared with TIME, further detailing what it was like to come home, not be able to go about her daily life, and endure the toll of always having to be “on.”

“It makes you angry,” Kim continued in the piece. “I just wanted a day where I was left alone. And it’s impossible. And I appreciate that everyone loves and supports me, but I just wish people could understand what I was going through up to that point. Everyone was like, ‘I just met her, and she’s such a bitch.’ I’m not a bitch. I just had the most exhausting two months of my life, and the minute I get home I’m getting hassled. I just want to get my f-cking ham and cheese sandwich and go.”

Managing through feelings of depression and burnout, Kim took a 22-month break from snowboarding — one that some thought would be an early retirement — to further recover from an ankle injury and attend college, enrolling at Princeton after being homeschooled for most of her childhood. Unfortunately, she faced similar challenges with her lack of privacy and being perceived as a celebrity on campus, ultimately leading her to therapy as the pandemic put a strain on her college experience.

As she got closer to Beijing, though, Kim’s body and mind were aligned on her next golden achievement.

Naturally, she won her first competition back after almost two years, earning her sixth X Games halfpipe title. But as she quickly returned to her winning ways and with Beijing on the horizon, issues outside of sports challenged her in ways no halfpipe could.

While hate crimes targeting Asian Americans in the US made headlines in 2021, Kim, a first-generation Korean American, struggled with how to use her immense platform to take a stand. After much consideration, she spoke out in a big way, sharing her own experiences with racism growing up on the snowboarding tour and posting some of the negative messages she still receives on social media today. She continued to be open about her own mental health and how these crimes and the social media abuse added to her anxiety and even made her feel unsafe when she was out in public.

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Ahead of Beijing, as she worked on her mind as much as her body, Kim continued to be transparent about her journey, hoping to inspire others as Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka set examples for her.

“I felt pressured to be perfect all the time, and it drained me,” Kim told SHAPE. “I was genuinely angry for a while because I was so concerned about what everyone else would think about me. It became toxic. That’s when I realized, I need to take better care of myself, and if I don’t want to do something, I can’t force myself to do it. It was very empowering for me, feeling like I finally had more control over my life. Right now I’m in a much better place.”

Kim will have the whole world watching while she attempts to make even more history as the first woman to repeat in the halfpipe, but no matter how she fares in Beijing, her journey over the last four years has given her the confidence to live and compete as her true self.

The women’s halfpipe qualifying round airs in primetime on NBC on Feb. 8.

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