When I read about these two Olympic athletes who are favorites for gold in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, I was struck by a number of the similarities in their lives and mental approaches. Figure skater Nathan Chen is a favorite, having recently dominated the world championships. Chloe Kim became a household name with her victory and subsequent interviews and tweets after her Snowboarding win in Pyeongchang in 2018 at the young age of 17.
In terms of similarities, other than both being Asian American and being the children of immigrant parents, they are, amazingly enough, Ivy League students, with Kim attending Princeton University and Chen attending Yale. Chen says that some of his fans were puzzled with his choice, but an injury when he was 16 made him think about what happens after his skating career. Chloe Kim had deferred enrollment but began attending Princeton in 2019 after an injury.
Being in a place where they could just be students was helpful to both. After being recognized everywhere at Princeton, things settled down and she felt like just another student:
“In the beginning, I was super uncomfortable and I think a lot of [students talking about her] were also fans of mine. I just wanted a normal college experience. I don’t want to be Chloe Kim. I just want to be Chloe, the student, your peer who does the same classes. But honestly, that only lasted for a couple of months. And then it was good to go.”
I can see how that would happen. I went to an Ivy where there was also a celebrity attending at the same time. After a few months, no one really cared after a while. There was also royalty there but they managed to keep a low profile. Nathan Chen probably went through the similar experiences as Chloe Kim.
Some notable differences – Kim says that a challenge for her was that there were no role models in her sport to look up to – no one looked like her. Chen says he was inspired be people like Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan. Chen continued to compete while in school while Kim took time of while she recovered from an injury. She returned to competition after 22 months, and it was difficult:
I’m not going to lie. I was so nervous at my first contest back. I was nauseous. I was about to throw up before. I was so nervous because 22 months is a really long time. And I kind of forgot what it was like because I got so accustomed to my chill college life, where I go to class and hang out with friends. I definitely kind of forgot how nerve-wracking it is.
Both are on leave from school while prepping for the Olympics. In response to her difficulties growing up while being a famous athlete, Chloe Kim has joined with other female athletes Alex Morgan, Simone Manual, and Sue Bird and started Togetherx, aimed at amplifying women’s voices in sport.