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Who Gets to Claim Chloe Kim as a ‘Local’?

February 13th, 2018 · No Comments · Landon Donovan, Olympics, soccer, Sports Journalism

Not that it matters much anymore, with print journalism in collapse, but for fun we can revisit a topic that would have been of great interest to sports journalists of 10 or 20 years ago:

Where is “home” to the latest great athlete?

Like, say, Chloe Kim, snowboarding gold-medallist at the Pyeongchang Winter Games?

Chloe Kim, from … where?

Let’s concede it is a little bit obnoxious when a media outlet claims an athlete as one of their own, with the suggestion that something great and good applies to the town (and back to the media outlet, too) because someone who turned out to be famous spent some time in that town.

This would tend to apply to television stations, in particular, since they do not have the staff to track a rising athlete from high school — or even earlier.

It would be the local newspapers who would tend to have a better claim on “we knew him/her when”.

But sorting out various newspaper claims to a sort of ownership of an athlete can get messy, with claims for X number of years in their circulation area or even suggests that “I have more phone numbers for our hometown hero than you do” coming into play.

Consider this one:

Athlete born in Torrance, California, and spent her early years there. Apparently started school in nearby Rancho Palos Verdes at Soleado Elementary School.

Taken out of public school for home-schooling around the age of 10, when she moved 80 miles to the small southern California mountain town of Lake Arrowhead to train full-time at the Ice Castle International Training Center, a facility in the even smaller mountain town of Blue Jay.

Never actually attended the local school, Rim of the World High School, but she lived in Lake Arrowhead, mostly, through her teens, and her high school diploma was issued by Rim of the World, her father later told a local newspaper — though no one who went to that high school ever saw her on campus.

Later attended UCLA for a year, also studied at the University of Denver and Tufts University.

Consider another athlete, born two years later:

Born in Ontario, California. Grew up mostly in Redlands, about 35 miles east of Ontario, got his first significant notice by local media when he easily won the “Moore Mile” run at Moore Middle School. Went to Redlands High School for a year, then moved to Redlands East Valley High School, which had just opened, as a junior and attended there for a bit before he pretty much gave up formal schooling because a professional team signed him. I believe he eventually attended adult schools and gained a high-school diploma.

Lived in Leverkusen, Germany for a time, then in San Jose, California, where he played for a local team, went back to Leverkusen for a bit and returned to southern California to play for another pro team, and lived mostly in Manhattan Beach. During his career, he also spent something like four months living and competing in Liverpool. When his playing career ended, he moved to San Diego.

The athletes are the skater Michelle Kwan and the soccer player Landon Donovan.

Where, for purposes of individual newspapers, are these athletes from?

Let’s back up a little.

All sorts of media, chambers of commerce and local mayors may claim someone as a hometown hero, but a generally accepted rule of thumb (in newspapers, anyway) is this:

You are “from” wherever you went to high school.

The idea behind that notion seems to be … place of birth is more about a local hospital than a hometown; elementary school is often hazy in the minds of everyone involved; and college can be just about anywhere. High school, however, tends to be recalled by the individual and by those who went to school with that athlete or taught him or her, and saw him or her every day for some significant stretch of time.

The “high school” rule tends to carry the day — as long as the athlete 1) went to high school and 2) did all or most of it at the same school.

Most arguments in North American professional sports are settled by the name of the school on a high-school diploma — in part because the  professional leagues generally can’t get their hands on young athletes until June of their senior year.

However, that “rule” is not neatly applicable to Kwan or Donovan because each had a somewhat tenuous connection with a high school campus.

Turns out, the same is the case for Chloe Kim, hero today of the Olympics halfpipe.

She was born in Long Beach, California. She began snowboarding at age 4. As a child, she spent some time at La Palma Christian School, in La Palma, California.

She began training full-time at age 6 at the modest Mountain High resort in Wrightwood, California, then spent a couple of years training in Valais, Switzerland, before returning to California, apparently at age 10 — to the busy winter-sports town of Mammoth Lakes, with her training based at the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, where a previous halfpipe prodigy, Shaun White, polished his skills.

Olympians, in general, tend to defy easy attachment to a city or school, because they often are doing sports (and not all that much school) from the age of 15 — or even younger. Which washes away the “where did you go to high school?” factor.

Back to the question: Where are these athletes from?

Let me be the judge of that!

Donovan usually is connected to Redlands, because he spent most of his high school life there and many of his classmates remember him. (Also, for years, he often returned to his parents’ home, in Redlands, during breaks in soccer seasons.)

Kwan spent most of her teens in Lake Arrowead, so we will give her to the mountain town.

Kim, 17, has an even more tenuous connection to any particular school, so we will award Mammoth Lakes, her training base since age 10, as her hometown.

I suspect all Kwan and Kim would say they do not come from anywhere in particular.

Accidents of birth put them in one place, attachment to a sport sent them hither and yon, they did not have high school or college careers, as most American athletes would know them.

Instead, they (and Donovan) probably should be considered citizens of the sports world, and from a tender age. And any inspiration they might give to people from the towns they passed through … well, we all can share in that, can’t we.




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