Clark put up another strong run, scoring higher but remaining in third. She is aiming for her fourth career halfpipe Olympic medal. After a fall in her first run, Arielle Gold of the United States had a clean run and moved into fourth.
Liu improved as well, to 89.75, but still short of Kim’s first run.
That left Kim in good position to take some chances to up her score. She went for the back-to-back 1080s, but fell on the second. If she still leads before her third run, she may take another shot at it.
Chloe Kim Crushes the First Run
With 11 of 12 snowboarders having taken their first runs in the halfpipe, Liu Jiayu of China led the way with a strong run that scored 85.50. The veteran American Kelly Clark, winner of the gold medal way back in 2002, landed a 1080 and took second place with a solid 76.25 score.
Then it was Chloe Kim’s turn.
Kim, 17, lived up to her reputation as the queen of the event, landing all her moves and scoring a crushing 93.75 that will be hard to top. She landed a 1080 but did not try her groundbreaking back to back 1080s; that could come on runs 2 or 3.
The boarders all have two more runs, with only the best one counting. And some of them may have been holding back to try more challenging moves on their later runs.
But Kim put one hand on the gold medal everyone expected for her.
What to Watch for in the Halfpipe
• Kim can land one of the most challenging tricks in the women’s halfpipe repertoire, the 1080: three complete rotations. And then she can land another, immediately afterward.
• Kim threw down the gauntlet in qualifying, picking up the highest and second highest score of the competition on her two runs. Between them she tweeted that she was craving ice cream.
• Three other Americans are also among the 12 finalists.
• The snowboarders will take three runs, and only the best run will count.
The Shaun White of Her Generation
Kim, the 17-year-old gold medal favorite in the snowboard halfpipe, was sitting near Shaun White when a question about pressure was directed her way. Kim, lined up on an auditorium stage with the American team on the eve of the Winter Olympics, was, after all, expected to overwhelm the competition here, and maybe at several more Games after this.
She shrugged the question away.
“I don’t really think about it as pressure,” she said. Pressure is a byproduct of expectations, she added, and expectations mean that people believe in you.
White, 32 years old and the most famous rider in history, fielded deeper questions about his life and career. Without much prompting, he kept returning to the concept of expectations and pressure. It was obviously on his mind, a constant companion for about 25 years now.
The years have taught him that the hardest trick is sustaining success when everyone expects it from you.
His audience was a room full of journalists, but it felt aimed, purposely or not, at an audience of one: Kim.
“It’s just kind of the mental mind-set of having won, and then having to win after winning, and win after winning after winning, you know?” White said, laughing. “It’s a great problem to have, but it’s finding that motivation, finding that drive.”
Kim was dominant in qualifying on Monday and was the clear favorite entering the final on Tuesday.
It will be White’s turn on Wednesday, provided he makes it through qualifying Tuesday afternoon. For the fourth time, he arrived as a favorite to win the Olympic halfpipe competition, looking for his third gold medal. In 2014, he finished fourth.
He has grown from brash childhood icon to elder statesman of a sport — a movement, really — now gliding into its next generation. The sight of him near Kim felt like a mash-up of past and future.
The comparisons are apt, and Kim’s rise feels like a strong echo of White’s. Both grew up in Southern California. Both were immersed in skateboard culture early. Both had parents who took them to the mountains to snowboard. Both began to dominate halfpipe contests by the time they hit puberty.
Kim stomped the competition in qualifying contests before the 2014 Winter Olympics, but she was too young to be eligible to compete in Sochi. She has won the X Games halfpipe competition in Aspen, Colo., three times, and also has a silver and bronze.
Both White and Kim soar past peers with a mix of fearlessness and acrobatics. Unafraid of speed (perhaps from years on skateboards) or height, they routinely fly higher than others, giving them time to perform tricks most others have never landed or even tried.
Both have significant social-media followings (though White’s fans number in the millions while Kim has several hundred thousand). Both have a wide spectrum of sponsors and teams of handlers — and complicated relationships with their competition. Snowboarders generally consider their trade more a lifestyle than a vocation. Camaraderie and an ambivalence toward winning contests permeate the culture.
White has long been a bit of an outsider among his peers, many of whom view his commercial appeal and embrace of fame with a mix of derision and jealousy. Kim is a bit different; she dropped into an already established culture, and riders like Clark became mentors and sister figures. But it is not hard to imagine a divide growing, as it did with White, between Kim and her peers — the women she continues to leave behind in competition and commercialism.
But no one asked about intrasport tensions when White and Kim were on stage together a few days ago. White talked about how much his focus changed when fame and fortune came his way as he prepared for his first Winter Olympics.
“I was 19, I had these huge contracts and deals and things, and my life was pretty much set, you know,” White said. “And then the motivation became just to solidify the fact that this is just who I am and what I do.”
White is a complex man — part athlete, part businessman, part cultural icon. He long ago shed his Flying Tomato nickname. His red hair is cut rather short, stylistically mussed, the vogue of someone who wants to play but also wants to be taken seriously.
He was sponsored by Burton at age 7 and was a snowboarding and skateboarding icon by middle school. Soon he was expected to win every competition he entered, from the X Games to the Olympics. From his earliest memories, he was expected to be the next big thing, he said.
“I was also teed up to be the next big failure,” he added.
All of this was said as Kim sat within arm’s reach. White never mentioned her, and he didn’t seem to realize that he was talking about her — over and over — as he was talking about himself.
A reporter asked White about Ayumu Hirano, who was 15 at the 2014 Winter Olympics when he won a silver medal in the halfpipe for Japan. By then, he was already being compared to White, heaped with big expectations.
“That’s a very tough position to be in,” White said. “I know, from being a young snowboarder myself.”
By then, Kim had leaned forward and turned to listen.