Just before learning the results of her run on the women’s halfpipe, Chloe Kim was on Twitter lamenting over being “hangry” due to leaving some of her breakfast sandwich uneaten. Snowboarder Red Gerard stayed up late binge-watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine and slept through his alarm… the morning of his final slopestyle snowboarding race.
Kim and Gerard are both 17 years old and are the first athletes born in the new millennia to win gold medals at the Winter Olympics.
While most 17 year olds are worried about college applications or passing gym class, these young Team USA athletes have already gone head-to-head with some of the most proficient athletes in the world. They’ve already received international recognition, sponsorships and more responsibility than most teenagers would know what to do with. With the pervasiveness of social media in the lives of the younger generation, these young Olympians have more eyes on them than ever before, as they are able to communicate their “hanger” to the masses within split seconds.
These young athletes cannot vote yet. They can’t independently get tattoos, purchase a car in their own name or buy a lottery ticket. And yet, they have the the eyes of the nation on them as winter sport champions. Kim has been able to drive for less than two years, yet she has already been on the cover of Sports Illustrated… and a Corn Flakes box, which sold out in the blink of an eye.
As the youngest woman to have ever won a gold medal in Olympic snowboarding, Kim’s achievements are already astounding. However, prior to being able to qualify for the Olympics (which was only due to her age, mind you), she was already a big name in boarding. She had won four gold medals at the X Games – an esteemed annual competition for skiing and boarding held in Snowmass, Colorado – and was the second rider to score a perfect 100 at the Snowboarding Grand Prix, only sharing the title with snowboarding legend Shaun White.
To celebrate his own success at the Olympics, Gerard took a brief sojourn from South Korea, going on a media tour back on home soil. In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Gerard laughed at the pressure of his success coming at such a young age. “I’m peaking,” he said with a smile. “After this, it going to be a steady down.” Somehow, that seems highly unlikely.
The prevalence of these young Olympic athletes is linked to the power of social media to change the social landscape of the competition. Social media gives the younger generation of athletes the ability to reach out and give viewers an inside look at their journeys. They tout a sense of humanity, however trite it may seem when it comes from social media.
As the usage of social media and technology increases, and as more athletes belonging to Generation Z become of age to compete, we will undoubtedly see the Olympics become more and more accessible to audiences. With Twitter ramblings, media tours and late night interviews, these kids seem more like teen idols than teenage athletes. Don’t get it confused, though — they’re taking their jobs just as seriously as athletes to their senior do. This time, just in Gen Z fashion.
Featured Photo: KOREAN CULTURE AND INFORMATION SERVICE/KOREA.NET