The most unbelievable part of Chloe Kim going podium perfect in 2021 after returning to competition in January for the first time in 22 months isn’t that she’s taken gold in all three events she’s entered.
It’s that she’s done so without even having to put down her best snowboarding.
Kim defended her snowboard halfpipe world championship title on Saturday when she won gold at the Aspen 2021 FIS
“This season I just wanted to land runs and not take it too seriously, but it’s honestly been working in my favor,” Kim said after her world championship win, per U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I’m super happy and just grateful to be here.”
The first gold medal came in January at the Laax Open, which marked Kim’s return to competition for the first time in nearly two years after she took time off her snowboarding career to attend her freshman year of college at Princeton.
After posting the highest score in qualifying, Kim didn’t even need to stomp her signature back-to-back 1080s that helped her win gold in the 2018 PyeongChang Games to take gold at in Laax. After trying to go big and throw down a new trick in her first run, she went back to basics on her second to move to the top of the leaderboard, where she remained.
And Kim’s basics are better than anyone’s.
She proved that again at X Games Aspen at the end of January, when she landed atop the leaderboard after her first run. After four, the judges saw no reason not to keep her there. While she threw down a massive frontside 1080 at X Games, once again, she didn’t need to bring out two of them in succession to win gold.
At Saturday’s world championships, once again, Kim took the lead after her first run and never relinquished it. Earning a 93.75 on her second run, Kim had a victory lap for her final, earning her third gold medal in as many starts (and as many months) in 2021.
It took a 1080 and a 900 but, once again, Kim had no reason to attempt the two 1080s. She also switched up the beginning of her run this year, now starting off with a backside 360 into a switch method.
“I’ve been doing the same run for almost six years now…and I was thinking about what I wanted to try and do differently,” Kim said. It’s also strategic—doing the majority of her run switch (the opposite of her natural stance) earns higher favor with the judges.
Not only has Kim had more tricks stashed away in her bag at this year’s competitions, she’s also battled through injury—though you’d never know it watching her highlights. At X Games, Kim posted on Instagram stories midway through the contest that she “low key popped some ribs out on the first slam,” but it didn’t keep her from nabbing gold. Similarly, after Saturday’s world championship win, Kim confessed that she “kind of sprained” her ankle in practice and that it was “a little challenging,” per U.S. Ski and Snowboard, but that she was “super happy [she] was able to pull through.”
Again, she could’ve fooled us.
Kim was the defending champion after taking halfpipe gold at in 2019 (the world championships are held every two years). At that time, it was the only major title missing from her resume.
Saturday’s women’s halfpipe final marked the second time the U.S. has gone one-two in a world championships, after Ross Powers and Lael Gregory did it in 1996.
“Chloe doing a pretty different run with her first run, put a stamp on it with her second run, and then Maddie with her third run had one of her best runs of the year…we’re excited to see them one-and-two,” said U.S. Snowboard Coach Rick Bower.
With the world championship win, Kim put herself in excellent position to qualify for a spot at the 2022 Beijing Games next February. The qualification season technically runs through January 16, 2022, but with the first-place finishes at the Laax Open and world championships, Kim has already accumulated enough points to be the No. 1-ranked American women’s halfpipe snowboarder in FIS points.
Heading into Saturday’s world championships, Kim was ranked No. 3 in the world behind Spain’s Queralt Castellet and China’s Xuetong Cai; however, Castellet earned bronze on the day.
Women’s snowboard halfpipe athletes are eligible for selection to the Olympic team by their National Olympic Committees (NOC) so long as they have accumulated a minimum of 50.00 FIS points in halfpipe by January 17, 2022, and placed in the top 30 of a halfpipe competition in at least one FIS World Cup event during the qualification period or in the FIS Snowboard World Championships 2021.
There are 25 quota places total for women’s snowboard halfpipe at the 2022 Beijing Games, and each country can send a maximum of four athletes per event to the Games. As the host country, China earns an automatic quota place in each event.
FIS points determine each nation’s quota—for example, within the current top 10 in women’s halfpipe, only four nations are represented (Spain, China, the USA and Japan), so those nations would be able to send multiple riders (up to four) before the next-highest-ranked nation.
However, the U.S. Snowboard Olympic Team will use World Snowboarding Points Lists (WSPL) to decide which riders to select to fill those quotas.
Heading into Saturday’s world championships, Kim was 10th overall but the second American in WSPL, with 600 points. However, her world championship gold will count a long way toward locking down her spot on the Beijing 2022 team.
If Kim can also podium at the upcoming Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix, a designated Olympic Tryout event, she’ll shore up her position even further.
Kim next returns to action on March 18 in the U.S. Grand Prix halfpipe qualifications, also at Aspen Snowmass, as she attempts to qualify for the March 21 finals.