Japan Grabs the First 3 Skateboarding Golds
TOKYO – The formidable Japanese skate team continued their outstanding performances at the Olympics and combined on Wednesday to end 13-year-old Sky Brown’s gold medal hopes.
Sakura Yosozumi, 19, won the women’s park event under the scorching midday sun at Ariake Urban Sports Park. His winning score of 60.09 was just ahead of 12-year-old Kokona Hiraki.
Japan has now won all three gold medals in skateboarding. The fourth and final event, the men’s park, will take place on Thursday.
Brown, who grew up in Japan, lives in California and competed for Great Britain, finished third to take bronze.
A victory for Hiraki or Brown would have made them the youngest gold medalist in Olympic history. The official distinction remains with Marjorie Gestring, a diver who won at the age of 13 and 268 days at the Berlin Games in 1936.
Brown stumbled late in his first two runs of the Final, but skated perfectly on the third under pressure. After she was finished, she raised her arms in the air, got out of the bowl and knelt on her deck, then was suffocated by the hugs of her competitors.
The judges were impressed, but not enough to give him the lead over Yosozumi and Hiraki’s early runs. Brown’s score of 56.47 left her in third place.
Yosozumi’s victory came as no big surprise. She won the Asian Games and a world championship in 2018, as well as a Dew Tour event in May, the first international competition since the start of the pandemic. She wore a red shirt to compete, as she usually does, and a pink streak in her hair.
Gold-medal favorite Misugu Okamoto, 15, came off the board in all of her final runs but still scored well enough to finish fourth.
The women’s discipline of skateboarding had the youngest group of female competitors at the Olympics, including a pre-teen, and they made their way past empty stands and a global TV audience.
One by one, the skateboarders fell into the concrete bowl and hummed down its ramps and hips and walls, flying over the lip to twist and turn and fall again.
The races lasted 45 seconds. Brown, Hiraki and Okamoto were among those who from the start stood out with bigger tunes, more nuanced tricks, and bursts of speed and confidence. At the end, the contestants usually greeted each other with congratulatory hugs.
Brown fell halfway through the first two of her three final runs, but remained a contender for a medal.
Okamoto also had a strong second run that she couldn’t complete before falling off the board and skidding on her knees. His score improved on Brown’s, pushing them each into a final round under pressure.
Brown and the three Japanese competitors took the top four places in the qualifying heats, followed by free-spirited 17-year-old American Bryce Wettstein.
When Wettstein was introduced, she strummed a ukulele. She finished sixth in the final.
Hiraki was the second youngest athlete among the 11,000 at these Olympics. She wore white Nike coveralls, like someone about to go paint, and turns 13 in about three weeks. (The youngest Olympian competing in Tokyo was Hend Zaza from Syria, a table tennis player.)
Brown turned 13 last month. She is the effervescent daughter of a British father and a Japanese mother, who grew up mainly in Japan and now lives mainly in Southern California.
“All three of them feel right at home,” she said.
She competed with baggy pants and a tank top with the Union Jack. She gained notoriety in Britain by winning a junior version of “Dancing With the Stars” in 2018. Her smile and Instagram posts have won her fans in at least three countries. She has a younger brother named Ocean who has also attracted attention.
She was seriously injured last year in an accident at Tony Hawk’s indoor skatepark when she slipped through a gap between two high ramps, crashing at least 15 feet into concrete. She was unconscious with a fractured skull and broke her wrist and left hand. A chipped tooth was repaired this spring.
“I was dead – well, not dead, but knocked out for, like, 4pm,” she said in an interview in May.
She was back on a board a few weeks later and seemed to fly higher and skate harder than ever at the Olympics.
“Falling is part of skateboarding,” she said. “It’s part of life. I was honestly excited to get back to the board.
Brown’s main rival at the Olympics was expected to be Okamoto, a calm and unemotional competitor, the best park skater of the past two years. She is part of a deep Japanese contingent that has won more medals in skateboarding than any other country.
Japan won the gold medal in all three skateboarding competitions at the Olympics.
In the Olympic street discipline last week, the gold, silver and bronze medals went to young women aged 13, 13 and 16. It was celebrated as the start of a new generation.
The day before, Yuto Horigome won the male street contest. The Men’s Park, the last skateboarding event, is Thursday.
Skateboarding was added to the Olympics for this reason alone – to add a youthful energy jolt. This was especially true among women.
What was less expected was the performance of Japan. Skateboarding has long been popular in Japan, an echo of the boom in the United States over the past two generations.
But skating on the streets of Japan is much more restrictive than in the United States. Few public places allow it, and seeing skateboarders on city sidewalks, especially in Tokyo, is rare. Skateboarders have a reputation for being loud, rude, and lawless.
Once skateboarding was added to the Olympics, more and more parents saw it as a legitimate sport. There has been an increase in the construction of skate parks, which are considered more suitable than riding the streets, built mostly in isolated places and in the corners of public parks.
More and more young skaters are entering the sport, some being trained from an early age. This trend seems certain to continue, as families search for the next Yuto Horigome, Momiji Nishiya or, now, Sakura Yosozumi.
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