American 17-year-old Chloe Kim will be remembered as one of the stars of the 2018 Winter Olympics after delighting audiences around the world with a gold medal-winning performance in the women's snowboarding halfpipe event.

Twelve years ago Melo Imai dreamt of being that girl.

At just 18, the winter sports prodigy entered the 2006 Olympics in Turin as one of the favourites in the halfpipe after winning a World Cup a year earlier.

Melo Imai of Japan (C) celebrates first place during the Ladies FIS World Cup Snowboard Halfpipe in 2005. Photo / getty Images.
Melo Imai of Japan (C) celebrates first place during the Ladies FIS World Cup Snowboard Halfpipe in 2005. Photo / getty Images.

Trained by her father, former Olympic volleyballer Takashi Narita, Imai arrived in northern Italy with golden ambition.

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But like her brother, Dome Narita, who competed in the men's event but failed to make it through the qualifying round, Imai's hopes of glory came crashing down.

A heavy crash which saw her slam her back on the lip of the halfpipe left her slipping in and out of consciousness and she had to be carried off the slopes. She finished 34th of 34 competitors.

Branded a "waste of taxpayers' money" and "Japan's embarrassment" according to the Tokyo Reporter, Imai was devastated.

"For many athletes the Olympics is the pinnacle of their career, but for me it was a nightmare," she told the Tokyo Weekender recently. "I don't just mean because I got injured and failed to progress. The whole experience was terrible. Leading up to the Games I had this constant fear of failure, like a choking feeling. It was the same throughout my career."

 Melo Imai of Japan is helped after falling in the Womens Snowboard Half Pipe Qualifying on Day 3 of the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic Games. Photo / Getty Images.
Melo Imai of Japan is helped after falling in the Womens Snowboard Half Pipe Qualifying on Day 3 of the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic Games. Photo / Getty Images.

In a story that has some similarities to that of Australian tennis player Jelena Dokic, a lot of the pressure Imai felt came from one source.

'IF I LOST HE WOULD BE ANGRY'

Imai's father had entered the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 with similar dreams of greatness. Part of an indoor volleyball team that dominated the Asian Championships in Perth in 1991, Takashi Narita, a 180cm setter, hoped to emulate the heroes of Japan's Olympic gold medal-winning outfit at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

But after upsetting a powerful US team that went on to medal in their opening pool game, Japan lost a five-setter against France which releagated them to a quartefinal match against the gold medal-winning Brazil team. They were thrashed 3-0 and went home empty-handed.

After a similarly fruitless appearance at the 1998 World Championships, Narita turned his attention to his children, three of which he began coaching in snowboarding.

According to Imai, whose parents divorced when she was five and was introduced to the sport at seven, her father was a disciplinarian who had full control of her life.

"I was raised by a very strict father until I was 17," she told Japanese tabloid Nikkan Gendai in 2016. "I was forbidden from any sort of behaviour that was girly, like wearing a skirt or putting on makeup."

"I envied people my age having the freedom to do the kind of things that are considered normal for most teenagers," Imai told the Tokyo Weekender. "It just wasn't an option for me as I felt I couldn't disobey my father."

The approach, which saw Imai forego school so she could train as early as 5am and as late as 11pm, had early results. She won a world junior championship at age 14 and appeared on track for stardom in Turin.

But inside she was competing for the wrong reason. "I knew if I lost (my father) would be angry," Imai said. "When I won he would compliment me, and that was my motivation. I wasn't doing it for myself at all."

SNOW QUEEN TO 'SNOW DROP'

Imai and her brother's snowboarding careers were all but over within a year or two of Turin. They became tarentos, a Japanese word for a Kardashian-type celebrity who is famous for being famous, and both pursued acting.

But while her brother took to the stage and short films, Imai headed down a different path.

Melo Imai turned to softcore porn after losing her passion for snowboarding. Photos / Supplied
Melo Imai turned to softcore porn after losing her passion for snowboarding. Photos / Supplied

After briefly marrying, the single mother-of-two began making ends meet by working as a hostess in a bar, which led to work as a prostitute in a sex parlour, nude photo shoots and eventually pornographic films.

"I used to be really shy and felt that I always needed to cover my body," she told the Tokyo Weekender. "That is something that has changed in recent years. I've had work done, but it isn't the only reason ... I began to believe in myself much more. To do that kind of job you can't be a shrinking violet. It has helped me a lot."

But despite revealing in other interviews her prostitution had led her to make an attempt on her life, Imai insists she's found contentment.

She showed the talent she's always had on the slopes by entering and winning the All Japan Snowboarding Championships in March last year and is now coaching her own children.

"There's been a lot written about my life in magazines and newspapers, but I believe people shouldn't judge me based on what they've read," Imai told the Weekender. "Speak to me and you will see that not everything is negative in my life. I'm enjoying my work ... and am back snowboarding again. I'm also coaching the sport to various kinds of people, including my son and daughter. I want to make it fun without putting them under any pressure at all: The exact opposite to how I was taught."