Tokyo 2020: Eight days to go

Rolling into the global spotlight

Tokyo debut of skateboarding, once a symbol of counter-culture, can change perceptions

Britain's Sky Brown (top), 12, and Germany's Lilly Stoephasius (above), 14, are set to become their respective countries' youngest summer Olympians.
Britain's Sky Brown (above), 12, and Germany's Lilly Stoephasius, 14, are set to become their respective countries' youngest summer Olympians.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Britain's Sky Brown (top), 12, and Germany's Lilly Stoephasius (above), 14, are set to become their respective countries' youngest summer Olympians.
Britain's Sky Brown, 12, and Germany's Lilly Stoephasius (above), 14, are set to become their respective countries' youngest summer Olympians.

TOKYO • The debut of skateboarding at the Tokyo Olympics will be yet another sign that an activity once embraced as a symbol of counter-culture has firmly joined the mainstream.

Skateboarding, with its deep roots in youth and street culture, joins surfing and sports climbing at the Games with organisers and broadcasters hoping the events will draw new and younger audiences to the global showpiece.

Yuto Horigome, the 22-year-old street skater aiming for gold this summer, said in March that he hoped the sport's addition would improve its reputation in Japan, where skateboarding is still widely viewed as a public nuisance.

"When I started skateboarding, I never imagined it would become an Olympic sport," he added.

Unlike more traditional Olympic events, the park and street skateboarding competitions - taking place from July 25 to Aug 5 - will be accompanied by loud music and held at the Ariake Urban Sports Park, a new course built on Tokyo's waterfront.

The park competition will take place in a traditional hollowed-out course, while the street course will mimic a city street with stairs, handrails and benches.

Both competitions will comprise two rounds (preliminaries and finals) where the skaters' best of three 45-second runs count as their final-round score.

Competitors are free to select their own route and tricks, ranging from a variety of daring moves like ollies, flips and mid-air spins, and judges will score based on difficulty and originality, as well as flow, timing and consistency.

Four gold medals, two each for men's and women's, are up for grabs.

Though the Olympics will give skateboarding a shiny new spin, the sport's history is embedded in counter-culture.

Skating is thought to have originated in the US in the 1950s, with surfers riding wooden boards attached to rollerskate wheels on days when they could not catch waves.

In the 1980s and '90s, skateboarding was further popularised by indie videos of teenagers skating in empty pools and desolate parks. More than just a sport, skateboarding is part of a subculture that has influenced everything from art to fashion.

With its inclusion in the Olympics, some worry that skateboarding will stray further from its non-conformist roots, while others say the event would elevate young women athletes in a still male-dominated sport.

Japan is expected to rule both the park and street events, with Horigome returning to his hometown to go head to head against 26-year-old American talent Nyjah Huston, whom the Japanese skater narrowly beat in a street competition last month.

Also in focus will be the line-up of formidable teen skaters like Sky Brown and Kokona Hiraki from Britain and Japan respectively, who are set to wow the crowd with their aerial tricks.

Twelve-year-old Brown, who won bronze at the 2019 World Skateboarding Championship, told Reuters in April she had recovered from a life-threatening fall last year and spent the pandemic preparing for Tokyo.

"It just made me feel like I want to push harder, go stronger and show that even if you fall, you've got to get back up," she said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2021, with the headline 'Rolling into the global spotlight'. Subscribe