U.S. Pushed for Olympic Skateboarding, but Came Up Short on Medals
TOKYO – Showcasing a new wave of aerial acrobatics and risky flipping board tricks, an international group of skateboarders eclipsed Americans in the sport’s last Olympic event, continuing the two-week demonstration of the global reach of skateboarding.
The United States has struggled to find medal support in a sport it invented and pushed at the Olympics. The Americans won just two of the 12 medals awarded at the Tokyo Games.
There were two bronzes – the first by Jagger Eaton on the Men’s Street at the start of the Olympic skateboarding debut, the other by Cory Juneau at the close of the event Thursday in the Men’s Park.
Juneau, 22, didn’t seem to care what color his medal was. He acknowledged that his style, nuanced and a bit lower than some top contenders, might not be what the judges were looking for as the Olympics put on their first skateboarding show.
“I’m not so much of an aerial type guy, but with the level here you kind of have to change it, change a few things,” Juneau said. “I just got bigger and changed a few lines, and I’m thankful it worked. And I am completely honored to win a bronze medal.
The park competition, filled with high-flying spins, technical board flips and long grinds on the rim of Ariake Urban Sports Park’s deep, streamlined bowl, seemed like the United States’ best chance to win medals. .
But only Juneau qualified for the final. His best run scored 84.13 points, behind Keegan Palmer of Australia, who won gold, and Pedro Barros of Brazil, who won silver.
Heimana Reynolds of the United States, the world’s No. 1 park skater, and teammate Zion Wright failed to qualify. Both had arrived with reasonable hopes of winning medals.
Reynolds finished 13th, Wright 11th. But as Reynolds explained, with a smile on his face and a smiley painted on his middle finger nail, the American export of skateboarding – as a sport and as a culture – is global.
He didn’t seem to be concerned that the United States hadn’t racked up medals.
“Skateboarding doesn’t make a distinction where you come from, who you are or anything like that,” he said. “A lot of these people barely speak English, and they’re some of my best friends. We all share the same language of skateboarding, and I think that’s the best part about it.
Under a scorching sun, Wright and Reynolds finished first and second in the first run. They had reason to hope that their scores would finish in the top eight out of 20 competitors.
But the scores rose with the morning temperature and their rankings took the standings down. Reynolds retired first, then Wright, as Juneau skated in the last heat and took eighth place.
Soon Juneau, too, was thrown from his position. He needed a big score on his third and final attempt and got it, a 73.0 which edged out 72.24 from Spaniard Danny Leon.
“I had made small ends, but I had not done a complete turn, ”said Juneau. “So I just put everything I had on the table, and it all came together.”
The skaters said the results may reflect the coronavirus pandemic. The skateboard competition circuit was closed for two years, so athletes worked privately on new tricks and then launched them onto the Olympic stage.
“When we first got here, the first few days of training, I definitely saw figures that I had never seen before,” said Reynolds. “And it really opened my eyes to love, wow, looking at the level of skateboarding today.”
Brazilian Luiz Francisco, for example, took first place in qualifying thanks to his series of risky flips, where the feet leave the board as it spins. One was a tre flip, where the board spins 360 degrees and flips over at the same time.
The final took performance to the next level. Palmer, 18, had two races in the final that far surpassed all the others and even surprised his friends. He was born in San Diego, lived in Australia for 14 years and now lives in Southern California, which is part of the geographic heart of the sport.
“It’s a huge honor to be sitting next to these two guys,” said Palmer. “I’ve known them since I was little. No words can describe it. I can’t believe I’m sitting here with a gold medal around my neck.
Juneau, a few years his senior, seemed less surprised.
“I’m so proud of him – he’s like a little brother to me,” he said of Palmer. “He’s the best I’ve ever seen him skate, so he deserved it.”
Juneau opened the final with a score of 82.15, the third-highest in the competition at that time. The lead didn’t last long, but he increased his score with a third point of 84.13. That score held and won bronze.
Those who were eliminated before the finals, including the Americans, emphasized the Olympic arrival of skateboarding more than their personal disappointment.
“I was trying not to let my hopes get too high because I was in the first run and there are 20 of the best riders in the world here,” said Reynolds. “So I was just watching it and cheering on pretty much everyone, because we’re all here to skate, you know. And everyone killed him, so I’m just so glad to be here.
Reynolds and Wright weren’t the only big names to miss. Among others, the Swede Oskar Rozenberg, considered a big favorite for the medals, struggled to stay on his feet and finished in 17th place.
Three Brazilian skaters reached the final finishing among the top four qualifiers. Barros converted it to silver – one of three for Brazil, a skateboard powerhouse that never won gold.
Like the other skaters, he insisted that individual results were not the quest; the shared mind was.
“Today it’s not magic just because I have a medal on my neck,” Barros said. “It’s magical because I was with my friends, a bunch of kids, writing history.”
Skaters from Japan won gold in the first three events – men and women on the street and in the women’s park. This is expected to boost the sport’s popularity in Japan, where skateboarding’s long history has mostly taken place in the shadows.
The other sport theme at these Summer Games was the young age of many high level competitors. Skateboarding did not have a minimum age requirement at the Olympics, so most of the younger athletes were skateboarders, all women.
At the women’s street contest last week, the medal stand had two 13-year-olds and one 16-year-old. At the women’s park on Wednesday, all of the medalists were teenage girls, including 12-year-old Japanese Kokona Hiraki, who won silver, and 13-year-old Briton Sky Brown, who won bronze.
Men’s events are older. Qualifying rounds for the men’s park included Dane Rune Glifberg, 46, who won an X Games medal in 1995, before most Olympic skateboarders were born. Dallas Oberholzer of South Africa, also 46, was also on the pitch, sporting a smile and graying beard.
Each has ridden as a sort of ambassador connected to the skateboarding past. They finished 19th and 20th.
For Americans, used to leaving world competitions with trophies and medals and sharing them with friendly rivals from Brazil and Japan, success at the Tokyo Olympics will have to be viewed differently.
Reynolds, the highest ranked skater in the sport, came away feeling good about skateboarding performance at the Olympics and its hold on the world.
For him and the rest of the American skate team, that will have to be enough.
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