It is easy to get over excited when an athlete bursts onto the scene, particularly when they look like they are once-in-a-generation talents. But we often forget the mental toll that can have on people who have no experience of fame or an abnormal life - and Chloe Kim has been open about how global recognition has affected her.
The American snowboarder is a huge star and she will go to Beijing 2022 as the overwhelming favourite to win halfpipe gold, retaining the title which catapulted her worldwide fame when she topped the podium at Pyeongchang 2018.
That success was magnified for Kim, as she did it in the nation of her parents - South Korea. She was celebrated as a new national hero not just in the US, but in the land of her ancestors.
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But dealing with that was not initially easy. The attention became so overwhelming that Kim threw her gold medal in the bin, where it did not stay for long, and she quickly realised that her life was not going to be the same again.
“The minute I come home, I can’t even go to my goddamn favourite place,” Kim told TIME, as she reflected on a trip to a local bakery in southern California.
“It makes you angry. I just wanted a day where I was left alone. And it’s impossible. And I appreciate that everyone loves and supports me, but I just wish people could understand what I was going through up to that point.
“Everyone was like, ‘I just met her, and she’s such a b****.’ I’m not a b****. I just had the most exhausting two months of my life, and the minute I get home I’m getting hassled. I just want to get my f****** ham and cheese sandwich and go.”
It may sound small, but it is an anecdote which summarises the changes in the life of a then 17-year-old who was thrust into the spotlight. Everyone wanted a piece of her, and she was plunged to what she describes as a “dark place”.
Sport, the media and fans are only now starting to really take notice of what piling pressure on athletes can do. Covid has taught us more about the importance of mental health, and more and more sports people have been speaking up about it. Gymnastics star Simone Biles, four-time Grand Slam tennis champion Naomi Osaka and England cricketer Ben Stokes have been open about putting their health first - and slowly this is becoming more normalised.
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Kim is in a different place now, but she will recognise the hype and expectation around her performances in Beijing. She is utterly dominant in her event, having won back-to-back world titles since her success at the previous Games. Her one and only World Cup of the season resulted in another victory at Laax.
She will again be one of the key draws for the Winter Olympics and she is promising to deliver something special in Beijing.
“They’re an upgrade from everything I’ve done,” Kim told TIME on the tricks that she is planning.
“Don’t have too many expectations, just let me vibe. I’m just trying to chill.
“No, I’m just kidding. You just expect a lot out of me. I’m going to go off.”
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Watch every moment of Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on discovery+.
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