'Hangry' Chloe Kim soared — and served NBC exactly the Olympics combo it needed

Chloe Kim’s gravity-defying acrobatics en route to gold in the women’s halfpipe was something to behold.

The highly touted 17-year-old snowboarder from California soared and spun while carrying both the weight of lofty expectations and NBC’s Monday prime-time telecast on her back at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

“It’s so rare that people can live up to the hype,” NBC analyst Todd Richards said. “Chloe Kim absolutely did that today. It wasn’t any shock to me. We’ve seen it all season long. Chloe Kim is the future and it is here, inspiring women all over the world.”

Off her board as much as on it, Kim was a big winner for Team USA, snowboarding, her future marketing possibilities and, obviously, NBC.

On top of her gold-medal performance — quantified by the 98.25 score Kim racked up after she already had secured the medal with a well-ahead-of-the-pack first run — there was the infectious big smile, tears and an endearing affection for comfort food shared via her Twitter account, @chloekimsnow.

Following references earlier in the Winter Games to churros and ice cream, there was a tweet between between her final runs expressing regret over leaving a pre-event breakfast sandwich unfinished, noting “now I'm getting hangry.”

Yet had “hangry” Kim (apparently hungry and angry) failed to deliver, NBC Olympics executives would have been the ones feeling agita, especially while still waiting to see how much-promoted Mikaela Shiffrin and popular veteran U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn do when they finally hit the slopes.

Men’s snowboarder Shaun White, an old Olympics hand, provided some drama in topping the men’s halfpipe qualifying that stretched from prime time into the late-night slot packaged as prime-plus, setting the stage for a finals showdown with Australian Scotty James.

The men’s Alpine combined got underway on a course modified to minimize the effects of high winds. The changes kept racers from going airborne quite so much, sapping some of the visual appeal.

Safety measures can be such a buzzkill.

Not that danger is ever far from possible in many of these winter events, helmets and precautions notwithstanding. From luge and the ominously named skeleton to, well, anything at high speed on a mountain, the risks are part of the unspoken thrill.

(It’s hard to watch the halfpipe without thinking of the viral video of White’s training run gone awry last fall in New Zealand, which required 62 stitches across his forehead, lips and tongue. And much was made of Canadian slopestyle bronze medalist Mark McMorris’ near-fatal injuries a year ago.)

But there is something about watching one world-class athlete after another do — or at least try to do — the same thing with varying degrees of success that can be numbing after a point to the untrained eye and casual quadrennial enthusiast.

This is especially true on nights such as Monday when the absence of figure skating and NBC commentators Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir channeling their inner Simon Cowell as a palate cleanser is acutely felt.

That’s why Kim’s engaging and enthralling performance meant so much.

“You know when you watch a great athlete who’s just a notch above everybody else in the sport?” NBC prime-time host Mike Tirico said. “They don’t always win, but they wow you — kind of like Tiger (Woods) at the height of his prime in golf. Chloe Kim, if you didn’t know or understand all of the hype, maybe you understand now.”

Excellence, plus relatability, is a killer combo.

After all, who doesn’t love a good churro?

“We’ve got churros mentioned, we’ve got ice cream mentioned in qualifiers, and now breakfast sandwiches?” Richards said, amused by Kim’s Twitter feed. “Someone take this girl out to dinner.”

NBC’s “Today” show popped for churros, ice cream and grilled ham and cheese, which Kim snacked on during a quick visit to the set Tuesday morning.

But seeing as how the “hangry” gold medalist served up exactly what the network needed, NBC should pick up the tab for a full sit-down meal.

philrosenthal@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @phil_rosenthal

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