Amaze. Inspire. Surprise. You’ll be hearing those words a lot in the coming weeks—together, they cut to the heart of why we love sports in the first place. So in the days leading up to the naming of SI’s Sportsperson we’ll be looking back and shining a light on the athletes, moments and teams (and one horse) who did one—or all—of those things in 2018. There can be only one Sportsperson. But it has been a year full of deserving candidates.
The Winter Olympics, like winter itself, tend to be forgotten until they come around again. Chloe Kim was the delightful exception. By the time she was done snowboarding, thousands of Americans wanted to follow her, even if that meant flying through the air over a halfpipe.
Her first run earned a score of 93.75, which would have easily been good enough to win gold. But the appeal of Kim was never just about wining gold, just as a 360-degree windmill slam dunk is not just about scoring two points. She is that rarest of athletes: so charismatic and so good that she can try to entertain and win without sacrificing either goal.
Kim started her third run knowing she had clinched victory. But she was not done. After he second run, she learned that her Korean grandmother was at the venue in Pyeongchang, and she thought, “This one’s for Grams.’” Kim did a method, front 10, back 10, front nine, McTwist and crippler seven, and earned a 98.25. What grandmother wouldn’t love that?
Including qualifying, Kim had five runs. She scored above 90 on four of them. Nobody else even did it once. There were complicated reasons for this, but you didn’t need to understand them. Anybody watching understood: She was way better than everybody else.
Kim understood it, too, but was smart enough not to flaunt it. She became a social media sensation and breakout celebrity during these Olympics, and she did it with as much ease as she won the gold. Between runs she tweeted, “Wish I finished my breakfast sandwich but my stubborn self decided not to and now I'm getting hangry.” At her winning press conference, she teased her mom, Boran, about social-media followers, and her dad about almost everything, and if you didn’t fall in love with her there, that was your fault.
“I hate talking about when my dad when he’s there because he gets really cocky,” she said. “He’s like, ‘You really do care about me!’
At one point she rambled so long that she finally just admitted, “I don’t know what I’m saying right now, but I’m just really happy.”
It didn’t really matter what she said. It all sounded perfect. One can fake a social media personality, but one cannot fake this kind of performing charisma or in-person charm. The Olympics can seem like a giant marketing tool sometimes. Kim was for real, on and off the snowboard. Incredibly, she was just 17 years old when she won in Pyeongchang—too young to vote in an election, but already popular enough to win one.