Sun, Jul 28, 2019 - Page 11 News List

FEATURE: Skateboarders stoked to send sport to greater heights

Reuters, TOKYO

Skateboarder Misugu Okamoto trains at a skate park in Ama, Japan, on July 2.

Photo: AFP

Exactly one year from this past Friday, skateboarding is to make its Olympic bow at the Tokyo Games with top skaters hoping that the global exposure will help take the sport to the next level of popularity.

Of course, what started with surfers attaching roller skate wheels to wooden slats in 1950s California is already a professional sport, but the Olympics offers skaters the chance to do their thing on the biggest sporting stage.

“The publicity that skateboarding will get from the Olympics in Tokyo 2020 is just going to change everything for skateboarding,” said American Jagger Eaton, who made his X Games debut at age 11. “[It makes it] more accessible for people like me who love competing and want to compete.”

The International Olympic Committee’s drive to reach a more youthful audience led to the inclusion of skateboarding along with four other new sports for Tokyo.

In a sport that is still firmly rooted in the streets and urban skate parks, not everybody has been happy with the prospect of skaters vying for gold, silver and bronze.

However, for the likes of Eaton or three-time street world champion Nyjah Huston, skateboarding is all about competing — and winning.

“I have a super-competitive drive and I have worked my life, everything, to get where I am at, to compete with the pros and I just won’t let anybody take that away from me,” 18-year-old Eaton said.

Huston, who has also won the Street League Skateboarding competition five times, is the hot favorite for gold in Tokyo and sees the Olympics as the extra motivation he needs after a decade at the top.

“It adds extra pressure, but I am always going into every contest with the same mindset. Going out there and doing the best to win. I love a day out there competing,” the 24-year-old American said.

“I feel like people might think I would be less competitive now or less fired up after winning so much over the years, but I think the feeling keeps growing and the love for skateboarding keeps growing,” he added.

They will both need that competitive edge just to get to the Games, with only 20 spots for men and women in the two disciplines of park and street skateboarding up for grabs.

Skaters can qualify with a podium finish at the next world championships — in September for park boarders and next year for street — or by placing in the top 16 in the World Skate rankings.

Triple Olympic snowboard champion Shaun White is among those who have declared an interest in taking part and Eaton said that the threats might not come from the usual suspects.

“The thing about Tokyo is that it is an open contest,” said Eaton, silver medalist at last year’s X Games. “Not everybody is invited to the X Games or these other contests, so that is why you have got to keep on your toes.”

As hosts, Japan are guaranteed one spot per event, but they are likely to need more than that, such is the depth of skating talent in the country.

Chief among that pool of talent are street skating world champion Aori Nishimura, who turns 18 on Wednesday, and 13-year-old Misugu Okamoto, who leads World Skate’s park rankings and is in pole position for Olympic qualification.

With eight skaters in the top 10 rankings across the two disciplines, Japan’s women are taking the sport by storm.

“In terms of girl skaters, we have had a lot more competing internationally since it was announced to be an Olympic sport,” Nishimura told reporters. “In Japan, they put a lot of emphasis on the Olympics.”

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