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Contingent Of Teenagers Rock Pyeongchang

Vincent Zhou of Team USA reacts following his performance in the men's free figure skating final. Zhou is one of many teenagers who made it to the Winter Games.
David J. Phillip
Vincent Zhou of Team USA reacts following his performance in the men's free figure skating final. Zhou is one of many teenagers who made it to the Winter Games.

The angst of teenage life can be overwhelming. The angst of being an adult and watching teenagers — some of whom aren't old enough to vote in the U.S. — complete amazing feats of human strength and mental fortitude is ... well, also overwhelming. An impressive number of adolescents are not only competing in the 2018 Winter Games. In some cases, they're winning.

American Chloe Kim, 17, grabbed headlines and hearts with her outstanding gold medal performance in the women's snowboarding halfpipe. NPR's Bill Chappell reports that Kim is already considered one of the best snowboarders in history, and her tenacious commitment to scoring well, but also enjoying herself bodes well for her future Olympic prospects.

" 'Going to my third run I knew I had the gold,' Kim said. 'But I also knew I wouldn't be satisfied taking the gold and knowing that I hadn't put down my best. That third run was for me — to put down the best run I could do.' "

Kim also shared her humanity — and her high metabolism — in a few tweets.

Another American, speed skater Maame Biney, turned 18 a few weeks before arriving in South Korea. Biney came to the U.S. when she was 5 and is the first African-American woman to qualify for a U.S. Olympic speedskating team. Biney has an immensely positive spirit.

She had second and fourth place finishes in qualifying races earlier in the week. Biney is ranked second ahead of the 1,500 meter heat scheduled for Saturday night, Korea time.

The baby of Team USA is figure skater Vincent Zhou, who turns 18 in October. The California native had an exuberant performance on Saturday morning in South Korea. While he finished in sixth place, it was clear from his reaction that he was thrilled with his free skate performance. Social media responses highlighted great anticipation of American medal potential in Beijing 2022.

Zhou and teammate Nathan Chen skated early and then waited anxiously through the men's free skate on Saturday to see if they could hold their podium positions. Chen, 18, came in to the free skate after a disappointing 17th place in the men's short program, and wowed the crowd with a historic six quad jumps. But after explosive programs from Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno and Spain's Javier Fernandez, Chen and Zhou landed in fifth and sixth place, respectively.

Holding down the title of the youngest competitor across the Winter Games is Wu Meng, competing with the People's Republic of China for the freestyle skiing competition in halfpipe. She's one of many 15-year-olds who made it to Pyeongchang. Wu worked her way up through competitions in the U.S., New Zealand and China, ranking higher each time. The women's ski halfpipe competition begins Monday.

Other teen Olympic titans include, via NBCSports:

  • Jennie-Lee Burmansson (15) — Ski Slopestyle (Sweden)
  • Zhang Kexin (15) — Ski Halfpipe (China)
  • Alina Zagitova (15) — Figure Skating (Russia)
  • Kim Hanul (15) — Figure Skating (South Korea)
  • Hiroaki Kunitake (15) — Snowboard Big Air/Slopestyle (Japan)
  • Reira Iwabuchi(16) — Snowboard Big Air/Slopestyle (Japan)
  • Alice Robinson (16) — Alpine Skiing (New Zealand)
  • Ayaulum Amrenova (16) — Moguls (Kazakhstan)
  • Nico Porteous (16) — Ski Halfpipe (New Zealand)
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.