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Snowboarder Chloe Kim, a rising star, will get serious airtime at the Winter Olympics

David Wharton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

Spinning, flipping, flitting from one place to the next, Chloe Kim speaks in much the same way she rides the halfpipe, with breathless velocity and startling twists.

"Snowboarding brought me out of my shell," she says. "You know, if you meet someone for the first time, they're not going to bite you."

Sitting before a clutch of reporters, looking every bit the Southern California teenager in lipstick and blond highlights, Kim muses rapid-fire about fan letters from prison, less-than-stellar SAT scores and the relative merits of the Korean food her mother cooks.

"I need to go to Chipotle," she says. "It's like KFC, where you at?"

Grit and daring have made this 17-year-old from La Palma a prodigy in her sport. The first woman to land back-to-back 1080s -- two triple-spins in a flash -- she is expected to medal at the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics.

But if the Games serve as a watershed moment in her career, athleticism will be only part of the equation.

The U.S. State Department recently enlisted Kim, a first-generation Korean American, for a goodwill tour of South Korea, where the Olympics will take place. NBC has placed her at the forefront of its promotional spots, and corporate sponsors love her connection with a young demographic.

Sheer personality could make this self-proclaimed "girly girl" a crossover star in the vein of fellow snowboarder Shaun White.

"She is going to play very well on TV," says Andrew Rohm, a marketing professor at Loyola Marymount University. "This is her coming-out party on the world stage."

At first glance, nothing about Kim -- not her slim build or bright smile or the pitch of her voice -- hints at the ferocity with which she attacks the 22-foot walls of the halfpipe.

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