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Opinion: Kim stole our hearts in most dominant Winter Olympics debut ever

Olympics Wire logo Olympics Wire 2/13/2018 Chris Chase

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Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters. Muhammad Ali winning gold in Rome and shaking up the world after upsetting Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title. Serena Williams at the 1999 U.S. Open. LeBron James entering the NBA like has 18 going on 28. A teenaged Rafael Nadal winning the French Open in his tournament debut. Katie Ledecky coming out of nowhere to dominate at the 2012 Olympics. Jim Brown winning MVP in his rookie season. Wilt Chamberlain setting record for points and rebounds during his inaugural NBA season. Usain Bolt being, well, Usain Bolt.

Each of those legendary dominated the biggest events in their sports early in their careers, announcing themselves to the world and living up to the hype that has saddled (and ruined so many).

HIGHLIGHTS:  Kim cruises to gold

Add Chloe Kim to the list. The 17-year-old from California was the wire-to-wire gold medalist in Tuesday's women's halfpipe at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang, using the biggest air, the best combos and a confident style to become the youngest winner of Olympic gold in snowboarding history. Dominant doesn't even begin to cover it. They used to say Tiger would win golf tournaments just by swaggering into the locker room. Chloe Kim did it merely by popping on her astronaut suit.

Kim's story is spectacular - a version of the American Dream that involves immigrant parents who came to the U.S. with nothing, pulled themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps, made a better life for their daughter and then took a youngster's natural talent and nurtured it to help her become the greatest in her sport's history, all before getting her driver's license.

You can read all about Kim's story here (it's the best primer you'll read) and surely NBC will continue to hype her story, even though her Olympic Games are finished, far too early for her newly made legion of fans. But everything you needed to know you could see on Monday night.

As the top qualifier, Kim was the last to take to the halfpipe in the first run. Looking simultaneously like the teenager she is (the music playing on her headphones seemed to interest her more than her run for a moment) and the intimidating presence she is, the youngster stood atop the gate looking completely serene. There was no doubt what was about to go down. Kim knew it. Her opponents knew it. Fans knew it. The announcers knew it. It was predestined.

That first run: big method, skied 1080, frontside 900, inverted 540 indie grab and combo to 720. Though the competition was as stacked as any in the brief history of Olympic snowboarding, Kim performed like a woman among girls, despite being half as young as some of her competitors (she was the youngest to make the finals) and having "prom night" as the next big date circled on her calendar.

Her 93.75 opening run was done without her signature back-to-back 1080s (which she became the first woman to ever land), which is kind of like Michael Jordan winning the dunk contest without sticking out his tongue.

After Kim, the rest of the field dropped in 22 more times. No one even threatened that initial score. Not since Eric Heiden in 1980 has an American shot out of the gate at a Winter Olympics with such virtuosity. One can't help but wonder what would have happened if Kim had been allowed to compete in the Sochi Games, which she qualified for but wasn't allowed to compete in because she was two years younger than the required 15-year-old age requirement

This time, Kim led wire-to-wire, posted the highest score in the first qualifying run on Monday, the highest score in the second qualifying run, stormed to an insurmountable lead on Tuesday with that total in the first run of the finals and, by the time it was over, ended up posting the four highest scores of the event. All by herself. Liu Jiayu of China was spectacular in each of her runs and the silver medalist never had a chance.

The comparisons to Shaun White are unavoidable, as he also won gold in his Olympic halfpipe debut 12 years ago. No disrespect to the greatest snowboarder who ever lived, but while Kim was in control from the outset and never relinquished her grip on gold, White was in 7th place after his first qualifying run (out of the finals) and needed to nail his second to make the final. For a moment, at least, he felt less than invincible.

Kim was unbeatable from the moment she stepped foot in Korea, the country where her parents were born and where she still has family. The win was made official after Liu's last run failed to top Kim's first score, which meant that the teen's third and final run was nothing but a well-deserved victory lap.

It was a lark. Completely meaningless. It was her version of walking up the 18th fairway at Augusta. The result didn't matter, the goal was getting to the bottom of the hill to get that first (and certainly not last) gold medal.

So what did Chloe Kim do? She put together a flawless run, of course, with her score landing just short of a perfect 100.

Expect anything different?

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Related slideshow: Best of the 2018 Winter Olympics (Provided by photo services)

PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 23:  Fredrik Lindstroem of Sweden heads along the finish straight on the way to winning the gold medal during the Men's 4x7.5km Biathlon Relay on day 14 of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Alpensia Biathlon Centre on February 23, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images) 2018 Winter Olympics

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