Skateboarding’s Bright Future with the Olympics

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Skateboarding has officially entered the Olympic world stage. With the Women’s and Men’s Street Skateboarding events now finished, we can reflect on its incredible debut to the world Olympic stage.

Four days into the Olympics and we have crowned 2 Olympic Gold medalists already, and with 2 events left to go, it’s worth taking this break to analyse the action so far. With the lead up to its appearance, skateboarding has been looking good (This is assuming you are happy with the idea of contest skating on a world stage). The quality of courses designed and built by California Skateparks has been at an all time high which has given a great consistency to the contest circuit. The format has felt well refined and simple to follow. A tried and tested format all skaters and audience members seem to relish and enjoy.

The level of tricks in these contests has also improved dramatically with this clear and quality contest circuit. The pathway this standard of event has created has been backed up by the growth in competency. No more so than in the Women’s.

Vincent Milou Frontside flip lipslide, Gap to 12 stair rail. Source World Skate. Photograph by Atiba Photo

Men’s Street Skateboarding

Sunday 25 July gave us the Men’s Street Skateboarding. An epic debut for the world stage and a tense battle between 20 of the world’s top street skaters.

Felipe Gustavo had the honour (and stress) of having the first run. Starting off his line with a nollie flip into a grind, I couldn’t believe his confidence to bring such technicality to such a critical moment, but he delivered. The first run was completed, and Felipe scored an 8.49. The rest of the first runs went off as you might expect, and mix of nerves taking over and skill prevailing, the scores covered the whole scale from a 2.01 for Matt Berger to the first 9 of the event for Aurelien Giraud.

As the prelims moved on, those in-form seemed to stay in-form and those struggling never seemed to break through. Highlight of the prelims was the wild dominance of the Frenchman Aurelien Giraud. He was stomping huge tricks with bionic ease. One of the few people who could make a course this big looks small and playful. Aurelien was looking unstoppable.

Unfortunately Shane O’Neill, the Australian hopeful, didn’t make it through the pre-lims for the finals. As he does occasionally, he was having an off day, falling on three tries of a switch 360 double tre flip. Throughout the contest I felt a huge sense of tension and nerves in a way only competitive sport can make you feel. One of the great things about skateboarding culture though is the lack of nationality or background having an impact on who you support.

As their competitors landed top scoring tricks, other skaters would congratulate them, even during an event as important as the Olympics. I feel it is a trait unique to skateboarding and a few other sports where you want to see your competitor do the best they can and feel energised by their success. As a viewer, I felt far more connected to all the skaters than I do in other sports, even the surfing, which I’m heavily into. With Shane out for Australia, I found it easy to root for every other skater.

The feed in series of contests, and number of representatives from each country left a well rounded, but very well deserving draw. The skaters who made the final all deserved to be there, and all had a solid chance of a medal position. Angelo Caro being the only real underdog.

The finals had far less nerves than the prelims. The qualification into the finals seemingly enough to shake some nerves and let people relax into more of a ‘what will be will be’ attitude. More enjoyment of the moment. The abundance of big smiles throughout all the skate events was noticed by many of the viewers and media. A great look for skaters.

Aurelien however lost all his mojo between the prelims and finals. The unstoppable force was stopped as he fell again and again. A knee injury looked to be causing some issues. The other big upset of the finals was Nyjah Houston. A skater who seemed destined for Gold since he was young, the years of pressure had built up and was enough to topple one of the worlds best.

Gustavo Ribeiro struggled. Having dislocated his shoulder in Rome he looked (understandably) tentative. Every fall was a nerve-wracking moment and the risk of re-injury held his make rate down as he fell into last place. In the top 5 it was amazing to see Angelo Caro from Peru make such a good showing. A national hero off the back of this for sure. After Aurelien’s domination in the prelims, it was the Frenchman Vincent Milou who made waves in the Final. Narrowly missing out on a medal he was a crowd favourite of big frontside flips and huge smiles.

Of the medalists, Jagger Eaton for Bronze showed up incredibly well. Having narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Park Event, he had turned his sights to the Street Event a few months back. A task not many skaters could manage but Jagger delivered on. Maybe a surprise placing was silver medalist Kelvin Hoefler. I couldn’t have been happier to see him get a medal. I’ve always found his skating incredibly precise and his tricks highly technical but consistently underscored. He hasn’t won a major event for several years, scores always seeming to go against him, I was happy the scores in this went his way.

Our first Men’s Olympic Gold Medalist was always going to be a favourite. Yuto delivered with his signature range of Yuto only tricks. Nollie f/s 270 back lips, Nollie b/s 270 nose slides and the winning nail in an Olympic coffin, the F/s Nollie 180 switch 5-0 180 out. A wild selection of tricks down the big section rail. Yuto grew up only a few Kms from the contest venue and was already a poster boy around town. His fame in Japan after this will be at an all time high. Well deserved!

I saw a great screenshot from SLS founder Rob Dyrdek. Sent in 2016 he had messaged the SLS contest organisers saying,

‘Get this Yuto kid locked in, he’s going to be Olympic Gold medalist in 2020’.

There’s a reason Rob and the Dyrdek machine has been as successful as it has, and this sort of foresight shows exactly why. Well predicted!

Men’s Olympic Street Skateboarding Final Results

  1. Yuto Horigome JPN – GOLD MEDAL (final score 37.18/40)
  2. Kelvin Hoefler BRA – SILVER MEDAL (final score 36.15/40)
  3. Jagger Eaton USA – BRONZE MEDAL (final score 35.35/40)
  4. Vincent Milou FRA (final score 34.14/40)
  5. Angelo Caro PER (final score 32.87/40)
  6. Aurelien Giraud FRA (final score 29.09/40)
  7. Nyjah Houston USA (final score 26.10/40)
  8. Gustavo Ribeiro POR (final score 15.05/40)

Yuto Horigome celebrates. Source World Skate. Photograph by Atiba Photo

Women’s Street Skateboarding

Monday 26 July followed with the Women’s Street Skateboarding. After exciting the world stage on Sunday, it was great to see it backed up with the Women’s. Out the gate nerves were causing trouble for a lot of competitors.

Lore Bruggeman from Belgium handled her runs the best with smooth consistent skating. Hayley Wilson for Australia had a few good tricks in run 1 but her nerves seemed to get the better of her. Run 2 was much stronger, every trick perfect and securing her the highest run score so far. She had the skills to get through but unfortunately, she couldn’t bring it together in best trick. A point of difference amongst the field was the women stepping up to the huge 12 stair rail in their runs. The one’s who did, scored high and also looked stronger for best trick. Aori’s runs however felt a bit mid-timed, she was frontside lipsliding the shogun rain mid line which was amazing, but often fell on a more simple trick after. I would love to have seen that banger at the end of her run instead.

Roos Zwetsloot seemed to be really heating up as the contest went on and her love of big rails was paying off. The rest of the prelims heat mostly came down to those charging the big rails and stairs. The shock result was Leticia Bufoni and Pamela Rosa both missing out on the finals cut.

Finals kicked off and you could see the pressure really kicking in on the athletes, but they were more warmed up and scores followed. With mostly 2’s and low 3’s across the board everything was still open going into the best trick with nobody leading the charge. The best trick came down to a blow for blow battle on the big section.

The 12 stair rail and Shogun rail being the main features of choice. Seeing the women put down frontside smith grinds, front K’s, front feebles, lip slides, 50:50’s and more down these two huge rails was incredible.

They were taking big slams and going for huge tricks.

The sight of Aori with blood on her elbow, wiping it off whilst chatting to her coach shows the pure power and determination of these women. The park was big, and the level of ability in the women’s has improved so much over the past few years it really is incredible to see them now. By the next Olympics the gap with the mens will be smaller again and I can’t wait.

As the best trick came to an end, the final 3 skaters to go were all on the podium already, it was only their final position up for grabs. Rayssa up first, falls on a back smith down the 12. Momiji drops a crazy gap off the kicker over the dog leg rail and down the 8 stair square rail for a 3.43 which puts her into Gold medal position. With Japan guaranteed 2 medals Nakayama falls on a front blunt down the 12 to secure bronze and the final standings are set.

Momiji Nishiya Frontside feeble grind, 12 stair rail. Source World Skate. Photograph by Atiba Photo

Women’s Olympic Street Skateboarding Final Results

  1. Momiji Nishiya JPN – GOLD MEDAL (final score 15.23/40)
  2. Rayssa Leal BRA – SILVER MEDAL (final score 14.64/40)
  3. Funa Nakayama JPN – BRONZE MEDAL (final score 14.49/40)
  4. Alexis Sablone USA (final score 13.57/40)
  5. Roos Zwetsloot NED (final score 11.26/40)
  6. Wenhui Zeng CHN (final score 9.66/40)
  7. Marilyn Didal (final score 7.52/40)
  8. Aori Nishimura (final score 6.92/40)

Momiji Nishiya, Rayssa Leal and Funa Nakayama take the podium in Women’s Street. Source A Ricardo.

What worked what didn’t?

Overall, I think for a first showing in the Olympics, skateboarding was shown pretty darn well. As well as we could hope for considering what a complex situation it is to show a new sport, especially amongst the Covid restrictions and upsets.

Worked Well:

Course design and build – High quality, high stakes, exciting to watch, looked great.

Filming/Broadcasting – Never missed any tricks, everything was filmed well, no one flying through the air with no reference point of what they were doing.

Judging and Scoring – For the most part, this felt spot in. No complaints for where people placed. I also liked how the women’s seemed to be scored on a similar scale to the mens. This helped the 2 events feel more linked and comparable rather than scoring the women differently’ because they don’t yet have the skill level of the men’. The low scores don’t look amazing I admit, but it’s a short-term loss for a longer term jump in the performance.

Use of Skate Industry Professionals – The use of Atiba as a key photographer and Kelly Hart managing the World Skate social media was huge. All the coverage leading up to the contest was skate magazine quality. They really had the best in the world, and it showed.

Uniforms – All things considered I think these were great. If you expected the athletes to be wearing Jeans and a thrasher shirt…you’re missing the whole Olympic, country pride side of it. The skaters had to wear a country specific ‘uniform’ but they all seemed comfortable in them. No spandex in sight! Margie Didal looked rad in her outfit and seemed to be such normal skate clothes it was awesome. Bit more effort for the Aussie uniforms would be appreciated next time though.

Format – Simple Pre-lims and Finals worked well. There was no fluff, no seeding, no re-matches. It gave everyone an equal chance and the right people made it through. Hard to think of a way this could’ve been improved.

Music in the stadium – A small aspect, but I noticed all the music played live at the stadium was from classic skate videos and that gave it a very authentic feel. Music selection had clearly been made by skaters.

What could be improved:

Mainstream commentary – The commentary at the start in Aus (with Nick Boserio) was great. They knew exactly what they were talking about, and it was great to listen to. When the swimming came on and we were bumped to 7+ the commentary switched to a generic one with British commentators (not the one with Churchell on BBC, I’m sure he did a cracking job!). Unfortunately, while they knew a lot of tricks, they kept mistaking tricks and getting them wrong which was frustrating. As rubbish as this was, I’m a hardcore skater who will always notice this, for the general population I’m sure there was enough to take in and the tricks names don’t matter.

The lack of a crowd – did impact the clarity of which tricks are the best for some viewers. For less knowledgable viewers, the addition of a crowd cheering gives a helpful cue to a great move. I spoke with a couple of people who mentioned the lack of crowd left them slightly unsure which tricks were the best as they were landed. Obviously this will change in following years without Covid proving difficult, but I felt it was worth mentioning.

Qualification Pathways – A note I feel comes especially from Australia and those further from the USA where most big qualification events were happening. It was difficult for on USA skaters to get to enough events to qualify. This was partly due to Covid making things difficult so hopefully won’t be a problem moving forwards, however it does show a need for the Aussies to work on their pathways for top level performers.

So while Aussie Shane O’Neill unfortunately missed out on making it through the pre-lims to the finals, his recently launched board company April Skateboards had Yuto in the Men’s Gold and Rayssa in the Women’s Silver. It seems Shane has a good eye for talent!

I couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for Nyjah. Gold medal at the first Olympics had seemed like his fate for years and his dominance and ability to improve under pressure has made him look like a shoe in for years. Seeing him fall so far behind was a shock but is also so easy to do. A few missed tricks and your chance has slipped.

I felt the exact same for Leticia. Maybe more so. I remember seeing Leticia at the NASS skate contest in the UK sometime around 2008/09. It was amazing. It was the first time I’d ever seen a female skater that good in real life. She was doing kick flip front boards on the rails and it was absolutely blowing my mind. To think she’s kept going since then, all on this path for an Olympic medal was crushing to see her miss out.

Huge props also go out to Alexis Sablone. If you’ve been skating a while, you’ll know she had a part in the Coliseum Video ‘PJ Ladd’s Wonderful Horrible Life’ which came out in 2002. Yes, that’s 19 years ago! Alexis was killing it back then with huge tricks, so it’s a testament to her ability and determination to see her placing 4th in the maiden Olympic showing.

Skateboarding Park up next

Tune in to the Women’s Park Wednesday 4 August 10am (AEST) and then the Men’s Park Thursday 5 August 10am (AEST).

The Aussies have 3 skaters across these events with the legendary Poppy Starr for the Women’s and Kieran Woolley and Keegan Palmer for the Men’s. Good luck to them all! 

Words by Pete Adams

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Pete Adams

Pete Adams is a skateboarder who grew up in the UK and was involved in the scene with sponsors for a number of years before moving to Australia in 2013. Having recently started surfing in south wales and cornwall, this move lit a fire under his love of surfing. He now spends his time split between skating and surfing and still competes in some skate contests. He has recently launched a company focused on helping build action sports athletes careers and opportunities called ESM Australia.

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