Skateboarding Starts Olympics in Tokyo

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After years of trying to qualify for the Olympics, skateboarding is making its debut in men’s street competition at the sweltering, sun-scorched Ariake Urban Sports Park. Twenty men qualified for the event, and the first skateboarding gold medal will be awarded in Tokyo at noon on Sunday.

We arrived 90 minutes before the first warm-up, and the skaters literally began to warm up. Temperatures were expected to be in the 90s and shade is almost nonexistent. As with most skating competitions, there is music and a cheery announcer. No crowd, of course, but a flock of sweaty reporters sitting at one end.

Most attention will be drawn to 26-year-old American Nyjah Huston, who is considered the greatest street skater competition in history. in-depth New York Times profile this week. He has won all major skateboarding events including world championships, Street League Skateboarding series, X Games and Dew Tour events. In his home in Laguna Beach, California, he has a trophy hall that can barely hold all the trophies and medals. He’s likely to squeeze another one here at the Olympics.

His biggest rival for gold is a 22-year-old local skater. Yuto Horigome, son of a Tokyo taxi driver (we wrote about that too) and has been Huston’s biggest competitor for the past few years. At the first major events post-pandemic this spring, Huston won a Dew Tour and Horigome later won the world title in Rome. If there is a setback here, it is that neither of them finished 1-2 in either row.

But the field is deep, and many athletes came with realistic medal hopes. Americans Jagger Eaton and Jake Ilardi are among them. With skateboarding’s four olympic events (men’s and women’s street and men’s and women’s park), the safe bet is one of three countries: the United States, Japan, and Brazil. But there are outliers and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Vincent Milou from France won a medal today.

Here’s the format: Athletes are divided into four eliminations of five skaters. They’ll each do a two-stroke run at the skate park, running their own way over rails, bumps and ledges. Falling doesn’t disqualify anyone, but it doesn’t help their score.

Skateboarders will also try five tricks of their choice. A panel of judges will score each run and feat (seven in total) on a 10-point scale. The best four scores are added together.

Skaters with the top eight points will advance to the final. All preliminary scores are deleted and the process is repeated from scratch. Someone will have won a gold medal before these athletes go to lunch.

Skateboarders have spent the last few days in the park working out an hour or two a day, trying to figure out which features will hit and connect. The response to the park is universal—it’s big, fun, and incredibly warm.

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