HAFJELL, Norway -- Chloe Kim entered the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games with admittedly low expectations. Much to her surprise, the 15-year-old snowboarding sensation will leave the Games with two gold medals and memories to last a lifetime.
Kim added a second gold in as many competitions in Norway when she won the women’s slopestyle snowboarding event Friday morning. This gold medal came just five days after her dominant halfpipe performance, putting the world on notice that Kim is a force to be reckoned with in both disciplines.
The California native won with a score of 88.25, earned in her second run. Two Finnish snowboarders rounded out the podium, with Elli Pikkujamsa taking the silver medal (82.25) and Henna Ikola the bronze (79.25).
Unlike her halfpipe win, the slopestyle victory was unexpected, especially to Kim.
“I didn’t expect to even podium at all because I didn’t practice at all,” she said of her slopestyle gold medal. “I kind of got a little stomach problem thing yesterday and my knee was super sore, so I didn’t ride at all yesterday. I took maybe three runs the day before.
“I was hitting the small side. Today was the first time I hit the big jumps, so I was literally going in with no expectations. I was like, ‘All right, maybe I’ll ride by the rollers,’ but no, I showed up, the jumps were pretty mellow, the speed was pretty good; so I was stoked to win.”
Even if Kim had practiced, she did not enter the competition as a favorite by any stretch of the imagination. Kim rarely competes in slopestyle, choosing to focus solely on halfpipe. And that focus has paid off as she has amassed countless firsts in the event, all in the start of her teenage years.
Her many achievements in halfpipe include being the youngest-ever Winter X Games gold medalist (at 14 in 2015), being the first to win two X Games gold medals before age 16, being the first woman to land back-to-back 1080s and being the first woman to score a perfect 100. To boot, Kim would have qualified for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team if she was age eligible (she was 13 at the time).
She now adds another first to the list: the first U.S. woman to win two Winter Youth Olympic Games gold medals.
With her determination to advance the sport in halfpipe while continuing to improve her own riding, Kim doesn’t have time to dedicate to training and competing in slopestyle as well.
“I’ve always wanted to do slopestyle, I really do enjoy it,” Kim said. “Today I had so much fun. It’s just so hard nowadays because everyone is so good at slope and pipe, it’s hard to keep up with both.
“The women are starting to do doubles in the pipe and even on the jumps, and I don’t know if I can keep up with that.”
After all the fun and success Kim had at the Hafjell Freepark, she said she is definitely considering entering in both events at future competitions.
The favorite heading into women’s slopestyle snowboarding in Norway was Kim’s best friend, 15-year-old Hailey Langland.
Langland won bronze at the 2016 Winter X Games Aspen three weeks ago, one spot behind 2014 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson. Competing in her X Games debut, Langland was the youngest competitor in the field.
At the Youth Olympics, though, Langland was unable to put down a clean run and finished eighth with scores of 64.25 and 55.75.
“She’s such a good snowboarder,” Kim said of her friend and competitor. “Seeing her land her amazing run at X Games and coming in third was ridiculous, and I just think it’s awesome to have a friend out here like that.
“Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to put down a run here, but I know for sure if she landed that run I would’ve been bumped down a few. But it’s awesome; she’s an amazing rider, she’s a great friend of mine, and we’ve known each other for so long, and I’m sure she’ll do great at the 2018 Olympics.”
The same goes for Kim, who has already beat out several Olympic medalists many times over in her young career. Her experience winning two gold medals and serving as Team USA’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer in Norway only furthered her resolve to compete at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
“I literally had so much fun here,” she said. “I didn’t expect any of this, and I didn’t know it would be that much fun. Once I was here I just had so much fun. I met so many people right off the bat and it was awesome.”
Also surprising both fans and himself on Friday was Jake Pates, who won his second gold medal of the Games in men’s slopestyle. Like Kim, Pates started his Youth Olympic experience with halfpipe gold on Sunday, and, also like Kim, Pates specializes in halfpipe.
Pates’ first-run score of 93.00 would have won him the gold, but he bettered it in the second run, earning 94.75 points. Russia’s Vlad Khadarin was second with a 90.25 and Finland’s Rene Rinnekangas took bronze with 87.75. Team USA’s Nik Baden, who won halfpipe silver earlier in the week, was 11th with a score of 64.50.
At the Youth Games, athletes who qualify for either halfpipe or slopestyle are allowed and encouraged to enter into both. Until this week, the 17-year-old Pates wasn’t sure if he would compete in slopestyle.
“This is insane,” Pates said. “It feels incredible. Wasn’t really expecting (to win) and I actually wasn’t even sure if I was going to do slopestyle, so I am really excited to walk away with gold.”
Leading into the the Games in Lillehammer, Pates’ goal was to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Ben Ferguson, and he has now surpassed him. Ferguson, one of the top U.S. men’s halfpipe snowboarders, won halfpipe gold and slopestyle silver at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2012.
Pates last competed in slopestyle at a Revolution Tour event last season, which he also won. But he does not train for slopestyle on a regular basis.
He was supported in Norway by his mom, Amy, and sister, Charlie Sue, whose first trip to the Scandinavian country was highlighted by watching Jake win two golds.
“It was super cool,” Pates said on having his family at the Games all week. “It was their first time to Norway so they’re liking it and it’s cool to have them around as support. It’s dope.”
When he wasn’t competing, most of Pates’ time at the Youth Games was spent cheering on other members of Team USA, including attending as many men’s ice hockey games as he could with U.S. teammate Nik Baden and New Zealand freeskier Jackson Wells.
Like all the athletes at these Games, Pates stressed that his experience in Norway has motivated him even more to achieve his goal of competing at the Olympics in the future, which he knows will be a tall task with an already-stacked U.S. men’s halfpipe team.
“This makes me super stoked,” Pates said. “I’m just hoping I can get on that team and look forward to doing this all again.”