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

March 10, 2018

FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2018, file photo, women's halfpipe gold medalist Chloe Kim, of the United States, poses during the medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Three weeks after winning at the Olympics and transforming herself from a mere snowboarder into a full-fledged celebrity, 17-year-old Chloe Kim is the first to admit she never realized what a big deal her victory would be. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

VAIL, Colo. (AP) — 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, ’Why did it take you so long?” Kim said. “I said, ‘Just looking at it.’ I was thinking about what this means to me and letting it sink in.”

Three 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.

She’s just as in touch with the idea that she’s not really sure what to make of it yet, either.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to know how to feel,” she said in the lead-up to the Burton U.S. Open, where, on Saturday, she’ll go for one of the most prestigious halfpipe titles this side of the Olympics. “It’s something I’d been working on for so long that when it happened, it was, ‘What do I do now? What am I supposed to do with my life now?’”

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

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

It’s 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. It’s why, within the last six days, she’s received a shout-out from Frances McDormand during the best actress’ acceptance speech at the Oscars, 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 this awkward truth about herself and Barbie dolls. “I personally didn’t 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, it’s no wonder the sponsors are as drawn to her as her fans.

Since she left South Korea, Kim’s following on Instagram — and, yes, she keeps track — 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 there’s a downside to it, as well.

Over the past month, she has been hounded by paparazzi: “TMZ was outside my hotel. I wasn’t 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 it’s good to see the true fans who defend me and say, ‘She won a medal for America. Would you rather she did it for Korea?’”

In the lead-up to the Olympics, Kim came off, at least publicly, as much more scripted than she is now — 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 didn’t cry, which I don’t get at all. I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’” 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 didn’t want to eat it, but I ate it and it was amazing,” she said. “That’s 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 can’t go where you want. But at the same time, you get to make those people happy, listen to their stories. I think that’s important. You meet really rad people who love what you do and have the same passion as you.”

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More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

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