The Skateboarders Taking Over Are Among The Youngest Olympians in Tokyo
TOKYO – Youth were served to a global audience on Monday when two 13-year-old skaters fought until the final round to determine the winner of the women’s street competition.
Alexis Sablone, the 34-year-old skater from Brooklyn, had the best eyesight. She was in contention for a medal, much to her surprise, and now watched girls under half her age compete to win at the Olympics.
“I was like, ‘We’re finally here,’” Sablone said after finishing fourth. “The female skaters have reached critical mass. There are enough now that there will be wonders. And they are there.
In front of her, Rayssa Leal of Brazil, an energetic teenager with flowing hair and a broad smile, appeared to become the youngest gold medalist in Summer Games history.
Momiji Nishiya from Japan, who is just a few months older than Leal, sought to echo Yuto Horigome’s winning performance in the men’s competition at the same park a day earlier.
Leal went first. She needed a big landing to get Nishiya on the dash. She flew through the air, twisted her board underneath her, slipped along a rail and spilled onto the concrete in disappointment. A silver medal and a hug from his mother awaited his release.
The gold belonged to Nishiya, who pulled off his last three rounds for big scores, all of which were needed for victory. She is close to being the youngest gold medalist; this distinction belongs to Marjorie Gestring, a diver who won at the age of 13 years and 268 days the 1936 Games in Berlin. Nishiya is closer to her 14th birthday.
It was a contest steeped in cross-generational currents, rocking the Olympics with the kind of youthful spirit they wanted.
“They got cool points,” Sablone said.
These Olympics have become a showcase for young people, especially women, and especially in skateboarding. The youngest Olympic athlete was 12-year-old Syrian Hend Zaza, who lost her opening match in table tennis.
But the next five youngest athletes at the Tokyo Games are female skateboarders. Other sports are dotted with young athletes, especially swimming and diving, but nowhere is the pool of young talent as deep as in skateboarding.
Four of the eight women in the street final were 16 or under. Funa Nakayama of Japan, 16, won bronze. When you added the age of the medalists, it got to 42, and somewhere the market researchers got excited and the heavy people noticed.
This is all part of a bigger plan, as skateboarding’s debut at the Olympics came with a mandate: there would be no age restrictions, nothing to prevent younger viewers from seeing something. themselves in the images shown on their screens.
The push is especially true for girls, as the female side of Olympic skateboarding, always trying to catch up with the men in terms of money, attention and acceptance, is filled with high-flying teenage girls.
There could be an even bigger explosion next week, when the skateboarding competition is held with athletes falling into a concrete bowl and gushing out, twisting and flying off its edges.
Japan’s Kokona Hiraki is 12 (she will be 13 a few weeks after the Olympics), but the two biggest favorites are Briton Sky Brown, 13, and Japan’s Misugu Okamoto, 15.
Brown, in particular, looks set to launch. She is the effervescent daughter of a British father and a Japanese mother, who grew up mainly in Japan and now lives mainly in California. Her smile will win her fans in at least three countries.
“I want to be able to inspire girls,” she said in an interview in May. “Because I feel like people all over the world are watching the Olympics, and it’s a great place to inspire people. “
This is the change Sablone was talking about. Already, here at Ariake Urban Sports Park, a new generation of girls has recognized that it could inspire another. Medals are won. Role models are created. The cycle is set to repeat. The skate is rolling.
Sablone stood in the shadows as Japan’s national anthem played and three girls stood atop a podium, their images beaming around the world.
She’s a Columbia and MIT graduate architect, one of the great skateboarding talents who competed alongside, more as a hobby than a career. She reached her first X Games in 2009, shortly after the birth of the first two in Monday’s event. She was already 23 at the time – 10 years older than Nishiya and Leal are now.
She saw women’s skateboarding go from curiosity to the Olympics. She helped pave the way for the types of skaters who just beat her in the biggest competition, who wore medals that could have been hers in any year before, and there was a tone of satisfaction. in that.
“I’m 34 and I’m jumping on my skateboard, and there’s an amazing 13-year-old girl beating me right now,” she said of the final. “I’ve seen skateboarding through so many phases, and it’s a historic moment. I’m just glad I got to straddle that. I’m a lot older than them, but I’m not too old to be fourth so I think it’s pretty good.
The eight-skater final did not include some of skateboarding’s biggest stars, including Pamela Rosa, 22, and Leticia Bufoni, 28, both from Brazil.
Bufoni is one of the world’s most recognized skaters and she won her sixth gold at the X Games this month in California. But her scores in the preliminary round left her in ninth place, one place in the final, mostly ousted by young women who want to be like her.
Leal was one of them. When she was 7 years old, she appeared on a Brazilian TV show. She cried when Bufoni appeared on stage to greet her.
Bufoni spent the final in the stand, empty of fans, rooted for Leal. The two have spent most of the last few months together, and Bufoni wanted to give him some advice ahead of the final: Have fun. You are too young to be under pressure.
Sablone was 12 years older than the next oldest competitor in the final. She was in fourth place on her last lap, but her big finish ended in a reversal. The knockdown on concrete was not an uncommon outcome, as the finalists only managed 14 of their 40 attempted tricks. Nishiya was the only one to land her last.
“Years ago that would have been enough to win,” Sablone said. “It’s just that there are so many talented skaters out there now. It’s another time.
It was like a victory.
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