The Olympics are not just a sports competition. Yes, the weeks of coverage are the chance for the world’s TV watchers — thank God for couch potatoes — to learn more about these athletic demigods who skate and ski amongst us, and especially soar above us. Beyond watching them set personal-best records, and occasionally obliterate world-competition statistics, we get to discover their hobbies, quirks, pet peeves, and the individual traits that gain them followings on social media. In addition to being sports stars, each and every participant is marketed and packaged as a potential superstar. (Interesting side note: On the very funny, often overlooked, HBO comedy “Crashing,” recent guest star Whitney Cummings described star quality as “That certain something a person is born with. You look at them, and you want to be their friend.”)
Certain Olympians have that star quality in abundance, and others are promoted to make sure you know their name and feel a gradual affection for them by the end of two weeks. One way to truly promote, market, and make a statement as an Olympian is to get one’s photo on the front of the Wheaties cereal box. Tagged as “the Breakfast of Champions,” it makes sense that sports stars have been splashed across the iconic box since 1934.
Another way to become a collectible sports star — a figure who will endure after the last Triple Lutz has flickered into a distant memory — is to become a doll. Normally, it is the more girl-centric sports that nab this honor. Even though these are not girlish activities — you try walking a balance beam and then doing a handstand, followed by a backflip — it is the glamour sports that beckon doll manufacturers. It’s pretty much guaranteed that if a competitor has applied makeup, wears sequins, and is tying her ponytail with a silk ribbon, there is a potential doll in her future.
Mattel has had enormous success with their dolls that salute individual Olympians –gymnasts and figure skaters — as well as the sports world in general. For every Gabby Douglas portrait doll, there is a generic Barbie gymnast doll. In 1997, the company unveiled Olympic Figure Skaters Barbie and Ken, with World Champion Tara Lipinski gliding across the rink to meet her doll colleague. In 1998, Lipinski would go on to win the Gold, and would become the youngest winner of an individual ladies’ skating title at age 15 years, 8 months, and 10 days! Today, Lipinski provides color commentary at televised skating events, including the current 2018 Olympics, along with her BFF, skater Johnny Weir.
But this current Olympic fever dream has burned up and sizzled beyond the expected waltzing figure skaters. Rather than just illuminating the delicate, genteel young women who spin and pirouette like a wind-up ballerina on a jewelry box, the 2018 Olympics is really dominated by riot girrrrls. The halfpipe snowboard event was aired during prime time on Monday, February 12, and the world got to see girl power in action.
The array of half-pint athletes — many weren’t even five feet tall — was an unabashed salute to grit, guts, and glory. These three attributes have always existed in women, but they have not been promoted as being appropriately feminine. The 2018 class of winter athletes has not only shattered expectations, these world-class women have broken through the glass ceiling and have left icicles and snowflakes in their wake. Case in point: Australian halfpipe snowboarder Emily Arthur who attempted to chase a medal and ended up taking a rather nasty spill. She emerged from the snowy track with blood on her nose and atop her lips. She seemed temporarily stunned but quickly pulled herself together. As she walked off the course, a fan tried to snap a selfie with her. Arthur politely told the onlooker: “Sorry my head hurts a bit, and I’m not looking my best.” Talk about grace under pressure! Can you imagine how John McEnroe would have handled that intrusion?
One of the U.S. halfpipe snowboarders, Maddie Mastro, age 17, tried so hard to medal during her performance that she literally flew out of camera range. Her aerial acrobatics on her halfpipe snowboard was so high that the official Olympics camera couldn’t find and focus on her. Despite her vertical height and dizzying drive, Mastro was not able to do a clean run. She ended up netting dismal scores, knocked out of the medal run, but she made a statement. This California girl is not what the Beach Boys were crooning about: girls who are just there to be a boy’s dreamgirl or eye candy. Rather, Mastro is fast, spirited, independent, and strong.
Her teammate, fellow 17-year-old Chloe Kim, was painted as the Golden Girl of Snowboarding before she even arrived at the Pyeongchang games. Kim lived up to the hype and snagged the Gold Medal. (Well, she actually was handed the official plush tiger of the 2018 Olympics, Soohorang. Her medal will come in a separate ceremony.) Chloe Kim is the stuff that Mattel and other doll manufacturers dream about. She’s not afraid of cosmetics; she’s never met a hair color that she didn’t want to try. With her dark hair dyed a golden blond, Kim’s message is definitely “do or dye, she’s winning a medal.” And she did in grand, hot-dog style.
Even though she had already guaranteed herself the Gold, she had a third snowboard run to complete. Rather than just going through the motions, having to complete it for the sake of competition, Kim went all out. This third run, which was not necessary, became her “go out and go big” moment. What the athlete did was jawdropping. In fact, she scored a 98.5, nearly a perfect 100 for her moves. Her last run was her highest score in the competition. She didn’t just quietly and grudgingly complete her sport; no, she dropped the mic before she scurried off-stage. It was a salute to how this is a young woman who loves to compete, and her greatest competitor is herself. She wanted to go for that 100 mark, and she took her third try to swing for the fences. It was remarkable.
Won’t it be fantastic if Chloe Kim becomes a doll? She would be inspirational for so many young children across the globe. An American of Korean heritage, she is a potential goodwill ambassador for Asian and American relations. She represents a growing segment of the American population. Athletic and fearless, she would be a fun doll for both girls and boys to wind up and watch her go. Mattel has made hoverboard Barbies as part of their Space Age–themed creations. Why not a real-life, real-world snowboarding aerialist?
Chloe Kim would be a first-rate choice for a future Mattel doll. Able to soar high and to challenge herself beyond what is required or expected, she sends a positive message to children and collectors alike. Don’t ever sit on one’s laurels or avoid a chance to take a stand, to meet a challenge. By doing that third run at full throttle, Kim made Olympic history, scoring the highest marks ever attained by a female halfpipe snowboarder. She didn’t have to do it. She wanted to do it. (Pretty much the only thing she doesn’t want to do is eat breakfast. Kim tweeted out how she gets “very hangry” (hungry and angry) when she skips her first meal of the day. Perhaps a Wheaties contract can cure her of this eating deficiency.
Let’s wait and see if Mattel or Horsman or Ashton-Drake or Paradise Galleries (or any independent artist, as well) takes up the Chloe Kim challenge and makes a portrait doll of her or her other 2018 Olympic cohorts. There are a lot of fiery and fierce women on the slopes, at the rinks, on the courses, and powering down the hills.
Any one of these female athletes could do a doll and her collectors proud. They all prove that in 2018 feminism and femininity are not on a collision course. They can go hand in polar-fleeced glove.
Read more about Olympics collectibles in Stephanie Finnegan’s Plush Life
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