ZHANGJIAKOU, China (AP) — Snowboarder Chloe Kim turned in a strong opening run — one of her best top-to-bottom performances ever — as the American standout easily defended her Olympic halfpipe title on Thursday.
The last rider to drop into the halfpipe, and with the contest already over, the 21-year-old from California still attempted to go big one last time. She fell, got back up and casually glided the rest of the way down the halfpipe as the Olympic champion. She greeted her fellow medalists at the bottom with an embrace.
On this day, the only real drama was for second place, with 32-year-old Queralt Castellet of Spain taking silver in her fifth Olympic appearance. Sena Tomita of Japan held off Cai Xuetong of China for bronze.
No one was matching Kim’s height or demanding array of tricks. Not after an opening performance that featured a variety of different spins and rotations, including a front and backside 1080 (three spins each). That flawless run appeared to surprise even her as she covered her mouth in excitement. She later told a coach it was the best one she’s done.
Kim joins fellow American Shaun White as the only snowboarders to defend their Olympic titles in the halfpipe. White accomplished the feat in 2006 and ’10. As the defending champion from the Pyeongchang Games, White can do it again on Friday.
Watching the contest Thursday was IOC President Thomas Bach and Chinese freestyle skier Eileen Gu, who recently won the Olympic big air competition. They were treated to quite a performance from Kim, who won at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games as a 17-year old. Gu gave Kim a hug after one of her three runs.
Kim went for it on her second run and attempted to pull off a difficult 1260 (3 1/2 spins). But she couldn’t stick the landing and fell on her back side. On her Instagram stories page, she posted, “Ow my butt,” along with a picture of her face in pain.
Despite knowing she had the gold sewn up, there wasn’t much of a celebration before the last attempt. No, there was still work to do — trying to land the 1260. She almost did, too, before wiping out and gliding the rest of the way.
This is how dominant Kim has been: She hasn’t lost a contest since 2019. Even then, Kim had a good reason — she was competing on what turned out to be a broken ankle.
“She definitely pushes the sport so hard,” Cai said. “We, the rest of the girls, try to challenge her.”
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