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Where EAST meets the Northwest

OLYMPIC AFTERMATH. Womenís halfpipe gold medallist Chloe Kim of the United States poses during the medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Several weeks after winning at the Olympics and transforming herself from a mere snowboarder into a full-fledged celebrity, the 17-year-old Kim conceded she never realized what a big deal her victory would be. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

From The Asian Reporter, V28, #6 (March 19, 2018), page 8.

After Olympic win, Chloe Kim puts fame, fun in perspective

By Eddie Pells

AP National Writer

VAIL, Colo. ó In between the dozens of media appearances that have suddenly become her new day job, Chloe Kim slipped away from the lunch table, disappeared into the restroom, pulled the gold medal out of her bag ... and just sat there and stared at it.

"My parents were like, ĎWhy did it take you so long?í" Kim said. "I said, ĎJust looking at it.í I was thinking about what this means to me and letting it sink in."

Several weeks since the 17-year-old transformed herself from a mere snowboarding sensation into a full-fledged celebrity, Kim concedes she never realized what a big deal her victory would be.

Sheís just as in touch with the idea that sheís not really sure what to make of it yet, either.

"I donít think youíre supposed to know how to feel," she said in the lead-up to the Burton U.S. Open, where she went for one of the most prestigious halfpipe titles this side of the Olympics ó and took first place. "Itís something Iíd been working on for so long that when it happened, it was, ĎWhat do I do now? What am I supposed to do with my life now?í"

In that respect, sheís not unlike the 100-or-so champions who emerge from the Winter Olympics every four years ó niche-sports stars who suddenly find themselves with mainstream cred.

But Kimís backstory ó her folks were born and raised in South Korea, which just happened to be hosting the Olympics ó to say nothing of her once-in-a-generation talent and her made-for-Instagram personality, transcends beyond that of the typical gold medallist.

Itís why, since her gold-medal run in PyeongChang, she has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, been on set with Jimmy Fallon and James Corden, and had her face splashed on the front of a Corn Flakes box. Itís why, within six days, she received a shoutout at the Oscars from Frances McDormand during her acceptance speech for best actress, and also had a Barbie doll fashioned after her as part of a line of "Inspiring Women" that also includes Amelia Earhart.

"Really rad," Kim said, before revealing an awkward truth about herself and Barbie dolls. "I personally didnít play with dolls much. I was more into doll animals. I had a giant (stuffed) horse in my room. But I always walked by them in the store and thought they were super cool."

With that disarming blend of authenticity and charm, itís no wonder the sponsors are as drawn to her as her fans.

Since she left South Korea, Kimís following on Instagram ó and, yes, she keeps track ó has doubled once again, to 753,000 and counting. Meanwhile, going out on the street, or going out to eat, has become more of a challenge.

"I can still go to a restaurant, you just turn a lot more heads," Kim says. "But I hate it when people watch me eat. I literally eat like a lizard."

Kim got into snowboarding because she loved snowboarding. Becoming famous was not part of that plan, and she says thereís a downside to it, as well.

Over the past month, she has been hounded by paparazzi: "TMZ was outside my hotel. I wasnít expecting it at all," she said. And she has seen the less-than-inspiring messages from people who question her American-ness because of her Asian heritage.

"It hurt to hear that," she said. "At the same time, it feels good to represent Asian Americans who deal with that and itís good to see the true fans who defend me and say, ĎShe won a medal for America. Would you rather she did it for Korea?í"

In the lead-up to the Olympics, Kim came off, at least publicly, as much more scripted than she is now ó not all that unexpected given her age and the journey she was embarking on. Something changed, beginning with her engaging, hilarious news conference after the gold medal, in which she called out her dad for his seeming lack of emotion after her win: "My dad didnít cry, which I donít get at all. Iím like, ĎWhat are you doing?í" she said.

She claims to have done 600 interviews and become so deft at the craft that "I can definitely have a 17-year-old answer, and I can have a 35-year-old answer."

One of the "35-year-old answers" had to do with the unexpected ups and downs of becoming more famous than she ever imagined.

It had to do with the first time she ever saw an avocado.

"I didnít want to eat it, but I ate it and it was amazing," she said. "Thatís kind of how I felt with fame. Some of it does kind of suck. One person screams your name, people come running at you, and you canít go where you want. But at the same time, you get to make those people happy, listen to their stories. I think thatís important. You meet really rad people who love what you do and have the same passion as you."

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