(AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) _ Chloe Kim’s father pointed to himself and said “American dream!” then let out a whoop.
Nearly a decade after the Korean immigrant quit his job in California to help his precocious daughter become a snowboarder, Jong Jin’s sacrifice has paid off in international stardom. Chloe’s ascent got its final push Tuesday, when the 17-year-old won Olympic gold in the ladies halfpipe with a prime-time audience watching in the United States.
For the Kim family, the TV audience was secondary to the crew assembled at Phoenix Snow Park. At the base of the halfpipe, 20 friends and family huddled hopefully, holding “Go Chloe Kim!” banners and cheering hard after she landed each of her many soaring, twisting tricks.
Chloe’s extended Korean family made up most of the group. There was her mother, Boran, along with her dad, two sisters, her sister’s fiance, three aunts, two cousins, and her 75-year-old grandmother, Moon Jung ae.
It was Moon’s first time seeing snowboarding in person. She lives in Seoul and has been bringing newspaper clips featuring Chloe's photos to her tea parties with friends. She swelled with pride as Chloe became famous in South Korea in the buildup to the games.
”I couldn’t even sleep because everyone kept calling” about Chloe, Moon said through a translator.
Although they weren’t shotgunning beers like the family of men’s slopestyle medalist Red Gerard, the Kims threw quite a party in the family section. They yelled, clapped and bounced around when Chloe completed her first run with a leading score of 93.75, then rushed to a fence at the edge of the family section to greet Chloe as she went by. Chloe stopped for a group hug, then gave separate embraces to her grandmother and father.
"All right, don't cry," Chloe told her emotional grandmother. "I’ll see you after the next run.”
(AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
When Chloe took a tumble on Run 2, her father spoke words of encouragement into her ear during another group huddle along the fence.
Run 3 turned out to be a victory lap. Chloe was assured gold when silver medalist Liu Jiayu went down on her final run, and the Kims jumped and hollered when they realized. Jong Jin smiled and put his arms around the crew, and Boran threw her hands in the air.
Next to the small mosh pit of Kims, grandma Moon held the corner of a “Go Chloe Kim!” flag and laughed.
The celebration was even bigger when Kim capped her win with a 98.25 on the last run. Jong Jin thrust his arms in the air, leaned back and yelled, then began speaking excitedly to Korean media, beaming the whole time.
It was a moment years in the making, ever since Jong Jin quit his job to help his young daughter pursue a career as a snowboarder.
Jong Jin said Tuesday that it was a choice “normal for all parents,” though his sacrifice hardly seems routine.
Certainly, the results have been extraordinary. His daughter _ armed with preternatural talents and social media savvy _ has a chance to become a transcendent figure from these games. Chloe said afterward that her Twitter was "blowing up," and she picked up over 100,000 followers in the first few hours after winning gold.
It’s just what Jong Jin has wanted for Chloe. In his eyes, Tuesday was a matter of destiny.
It takes a village to raise a gold medalist. Winning gold in South Korea is especially meaningful for Chloe Kim and her family. #BestOfUS #WinterOlympics https://t.co/D65Nuoyydu pic.twitter.com/lhHbz5m0BI
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 13, 2018
Chloe has mostly resisted narratives tying her to her parents’ homeland ahead of these games in South Korea, preferring to be known as “the California girl,” but her father’s final words of encouragement Tuesday were rooted in cultural folk lore.
Legend has it that Korean dragons often evolve from snake-like figures known as Imugi _ Jong Jin described it as “a big snake, like an anaconda.” Chloe was born in the Korean year of the dragon, and the morning of the competition, Jong Jin texted to tell her it was “time to be dragon.”
“Today’s the day Imugi turns to dragon,” Jong Jin said. “She said, ‘Ha ha ha, thank you very much, dad.’”
Jong Jin’s message to his daughter after she won gold requires much less explanation.
After turning his life upside down to help Chloe achieve stardom, he found himself repeating the same two words.
Follow Jake Seiner on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jake_seiner