Nathan Chen. Chloe Kim.
Both Asian Americans, Americans in Asia, pure Olympic gold.
But the question remains. Will someone find a way to make it to feed a new stereotype, a model minority myth of Olympic proportions? Tiger Moms are hungry.
More on that in a bit.
First, let’s celebrate America’s diversity with a massive dose of legendary greatness.
Chen on ice, dazzling and graceful. The so-called “Quad King,” for his signature four revolutions in the air, Chen seemed less technical and more joyful in his final program. From his fist-pump after his short program, to his final move on the last note of the “free skate”–his arm extending a pointed fist, his face in a kind of friendly scowl (a smiling Tiger? Perhaps.) It was a relentless show of passion and grace. And confidence.
Chen was rewarded with a score that made him so dominant in the standings, there was no question of his excellence over the field. Considering he’s already three-time-world champion, the Olympic Gold medal makes Chen one of the greatest, if not the greatest of all time, in a legacy event of winter games, men’s figure skating.
Let that sink in: An Asian American man, the son of immigrants, following AAPI skating trailblazers Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Tiffany Chin, is now at the top of the entire sport.
That’s not just Asian American history. That’s history.
And who knows? If he’s the Tom Brady of ice skating, will we see fans clamor for his jersey, which happens to be a print of the cosmos in red designed by Vera Wang?
Why not? This Winter Olympics is turning out to be the Super Bowl for Asian Americans.
It all makes you appreciate Chen’s achievement. Especially me. I’m the guy at the ice rink holding on to the wall for dear life.
Snowboarding, I’m not much better. I fell once and never got up. That also explains why I marvel at Chloe Kim.
Earlier on Wednesday, the snowboarding phenom Kim was fierce and determined on the half-pipe. I know, where is the other half? Maybe they recycled it?
All I know is they left the half that counts for Kim to own. Back for more gold after winning in the PyeongChang Olympics, Kim did not disappoint.
I love watching the performers visualize their moves before they hit it. And Kim went for it hard from the beginning. She did a 1080 to start– three full revolutions in the air– then a 900, and finished with another 1080, making her virtually untouchable after just her first run, which she called a “safety run.”
It was a surprise after one of the worst practices she’s ever put her in a bad place mentally, she told NBC.
But here’s how Kim said she pulled through: “So I was dealing with all sorts of emotions, self-doubt, but when I was getting ready to drop into my first run, I just reminded myself that it’s a brand new run, and I just have to live in the now. And I was so happy I was able to do that.”
The meditative heart and mind of a champion. That first run left her sitting atop her competitors with a little cushion. She had two more runs. Would she coast to gold? Not Kim.
On the remaining two she was trying the “Cat 12,” a 1260 move that she said she had done just once before.
She went for it and fell in both runs. She still left with gold, an historic back-to-back snowboarding win. It wasn’t all that certain it would happen. After PyeongChang, Kim struggled to get back the feeling. She took time off, went to Princeton. The support from her family never wavered. She also fell in love. When she came back to her snowboard, she had to find that spark again.
The gold this time shows a Chloe renewed. “I’m in a much better headspace and I think I have a better idea of what to expect,” she told NBC of the fame she’ll experience now. “I’m just so eager to see my loved ones, my family, my dog, my boyfriend, so I think that’ll keep me happy and I’m just going to feel all the feelings and be proud of myself.”
A little loving self-compassion always works. It helped Chloe Kim make her own American history, the daughter of Korean immigrants, and now with back-to-back Olympic gold.
After her first run, Kim got a hug from a spectator Eileen Gu, whom I’ve dubbed an ABC, but with a T, for “American-Born, Chinese Team.”
Gu, a/k/a Ailing Eileen Gu could have won the first gold medal for the U.S. earlier this week, and then three of the first four gold medals won would’ve been Americans.
But the freestyle skier is playing for her mother’s homeland, China. (See my previous column.)
I’ll have more on Gu as the games continue.
But let’s keep the focus on Chen and Kim for now.
Chen especially is atop an Asian American ice skating boom. And the cream is rising. Once again in the winter Olympics, four of the six figure skaters on the U.S. team alone are Asian American: Karen Chen, Alysa Liu, Vincent Zhou, and Nathan Chen. Add ice dancer Madison Chock, and the U.S. team alone is chock full of AAPIs.
Could we be seeing an addendum to the negative positive stereotype, the Model Minority Myth, Olympic-style?
Crouching tiger, hidden Salchows? Let’s hope not.
But already there was NBC’s Olympic anchor Mike Tirico after Chen’s victory wondering on prime time: “We’ve just seen in the last 24 hours, Eileen Gu who’s going to Stanford, right, and we saw Chloe Kim and we talked about her time in Princeton, and Nathan Chen going to Yale, in addition to being best in the world, gold medal athletes, also very intelligent, but also in some ways, I think it has helped round them out as individuals. And it wasn’t about being obsessive all the time about getting back to a chance to compete for a gold medal…”
Oh yes, he could’ve mentioned Nathan and Eileen are classical pianists. And Eileen’s 1580 SAT, not as good as her 1620 in the Big Air freeski. And Nathan being pre-med.
Let’s all just appreciate their hard work and unique world class talents.
And let’s hope that the good will spills over and helps everyone else see them as a real part of all the rest of us non-Olympic Asian Americans.
We’re beyond any stereotypes. Not model minorities. Not medal minorities.
We don’t need to medal to be seen and heard as human, present and real.
Talking about it on my livestream on <em>Facebook</em> and <em>YouTube</em> on Emil Amok’s Takeout.
Come watch and listen!