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2 of the U.S.'s snowboard champs are in medal contention at Beijing Olympics

Returning snowboard halfpipe champ, Chloe Kim, performs a trick during qualification at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games. [Patrick Smith / Getty Images]
Returning snowboard halfpipe champ, Chloe Kim, performs a trick during qualification at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

BEIJING — Two of the U.S.'s top snowboarding superstars, Chloe Kim and Shaun White, are moving on to the medal round of their halfpipe competitions at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Kim executed a near-flawless first qualifying run, putting her way ahead of her competitors, and showing her form is there for a gold medal. If successful, she would be the first woman to ever claim a second gold in the women's halfpipe competition.

Kim held on to her first place finish despite a fall on her second run. At the end, Kim topped the leaderboard with 87.75 points. She finished four points ahead of the second place finisher Japan's Mitsuki Ono. China's Cai Xuetong came in third with 83.25 points

"On the second run I fell so that wasn't really great, but I was really stoked on my first run that I just wanted to take the second run and like try a different line I never practiced before," Kim said. "I'm not surprised that I fell but I'm just having so much fun out here. The pipe is so good."

A fall during White's first run put him in 19th place. A series of major wipeouts by his competitors in the second round, as well as a stellar performance from the three-time Olympic champion netted him 86.25 points, and put him in fourth place.

In qualifying, competitors use their best score to move on to the next round.

White was elated with his second turn at the halfpipe. Before getting to the finish line, he ripped his goggles off and cheered. He was also obviously relieved — wiping his brow as he awaited his score to be announced.

White and Kim face major pressure

Both Kim and White went to Beijing with the chance to achieve major milestones in their careers.

White, 35, is competing in his last Olympics after appearing in five total Winter Games. He is the first, and only, snowboarder to win three Olympic gold medals and the oldest-ever halfpipe rider to represent the U.S.

White appeared at ease as he wraps a storied career.

"I've given it my all, there's been some ups and downs along the way to get here. But through all of that, I feel like I've got stronger and better," he said.

Kim became the youngest female Olympic snowboarding champion during the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics at just 18. After facing immense pressure following her star-making performance in South Korea, she took a much-needed break.

"I'm honestly in such a good place right now - just so grateful, taking it all in, and I'm so excited for tomorrow," she said Wednesday. "I'm just focusing on the run I want to do tomorrow, visualizing it tonight and hoping I'll be able to put it to my feet."

Kim must now beat 11 other snowboarders in the women's halfpipe final on Thursday to claim gold. White will get his chance to do the same Friday during the men's halfpipe final.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.