Where EAST meets the Northwest
THRILLS & SPILLS. Yuto Horigome of Japan performs a trick during a street
skateboarding practice session at the 2020 Summer Olympics on July 24, 2021 in
Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
From The Asian Reporter, V31, #8 (August 2, 2021), page 13.
A first-ever gold — and a lesson — in Olympic skateboarding
By John Leicester and Miina Yamada
The Associated Press
TOKYO — Had the first-ever Olympic skateboarding champion ridden his board
out of the venue where he made history at the Tokyo Games, he quickly would have
come face-to-face with clear evidence that his sport still has a way to go to
winning hearts and minds.
Just a quick skate from the Ariake Urban Sports Park, next to a school, a
sign reads: "No skateboarding."
Good luck telling Yuto Horigome to move on. The Tokyo native now has a
weighty argument that he should be left alone: a shiny gold Olympic medal won in
the city where he learned to skate as a kid and honed his derring-do skills on
its teeming streets where skateboarders sometimes aren’t welcome.
"Skateboarding is still a minor sport," Horigome said. "I want to show how
skateboarding is fun."
Skating’s Olympic debut delivered exactly what the games’ organizers had
hoped for: a high-adrenaline show of thrills and lots of spills from athletes
plugged into younger audiences.
U.S. skater Jagger Eaton, who won bronze, immediately celebrated by whipping
his phone out of his pocket and broadcasting live on Instagram.
And Kelvin Hoefler, who used to sleep with his board when he first fell in
love with skating as a young boy, was so giddy with his Olympic silver that he
started picturing kids back in his native Brazil perhaps putting aside their
soccer balls and hopping onto four wheels instead.
"It’s going to be mind-changing for them," he predicted.
And perhaps for the Olympic Games, too.
The venerable sporting extravaganza had never seen an event quite as, well,
chill as this, with laid-back camaraderie and an emphasis on fun among
competitors steeped in the "life is a blast" philosophy of their counter-culture
pursuit born in freewheeling California. Putting competition aside, skaters
whooped and applauded when others landed tough tricks — and hoped that other
more buttoned-down sports were taking notice.
"The goal is to progress each sport to the maximum and we can do that without
having to bash or cheat," Puerto Rican skater Manny Santiago said. "The other
sports do need that. (At) the cafeteria last night, the majority of the
countries, the skate guys, we all sat down for dinner as like, ‘Let’s all sit
down before the event starts.’ You don’t see that in swimming."
Several skaters wore headphones as they competed — unthinkable in most
sports. Eaton listened to rapper Dusty Locane’s aptly named "Rollin n Controllin"
on his first run.
"It got me right in the groove," he said.
But never finding his groove was skating’s standout star, Nyjah Huston of the
U.S. He fell repeatedly while trying to land tricks and placed seventh in the
The Californian was among those who struggled with furnace-like conditions in
the skatepark of rails, stairs, ledges, and other urban furniture that gives the
street event its name.
Blazing sun softened rubber joints on the boards’ wheel axles, making them
harder to control.
"Your feet starting burning up," Huston said. "Your board like gets so hot
that it kind of flexes more. That’s kind of why I fell on one of those tricks
Still, Huston talked up skating’s Olympic debut as a win for skaters
"Hopefully, yes, after this people will be more accepting to skateboarding in
cities like Tokyo," Huston said. "We are not out there trying to vandalize or
trespass, or the way a lot of people see it. We are just out there doing our
jobs, to be honest, and having an awesome time."
While Huston melted down in the heat, Horigome was ice cool, executing the
toughest tricks. His dad skated, and Horigome himself started as a
seven-year-old, riding in a park just a 30-minute drive from the future Olympic
The 22-year-old had been among the medal favorites after he beat Huston at
the world championships in Rome in June.
On his highest scoring stunt, Horigome flipped the board from under him on
takeoff and slid it down a jagged rail on its nose, a trick called a nollie 270
That earned a high-scoring 9.5. Horigome was the only skater in the final to
score nothing but nines in all of his tricks that counted.
In front of her television, in a residence that overlooks the venue,
eight-year-old Ayane Nakamura yelped as Horigome sealed gold with a final trick.
A skateboarder with dreams of becoming an Olympian herself one day, Ayane
said she sometimes gets told off for zipping around on her board with its
Peanuts motif. Wearing a Japan shirt, she practiced ollies, a basic trick, as
she waited outside the venue, hoping to glimpse the skaters on their way in.
"Some people scold me," she said. "So I have to hide."
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