‘We love this’: Team USA skateboarders reflect on the sport’s Olympic debut

Jagger Eaton, 20, smiled his way through the Olympic men’s skateboarding street final.

Bobbing his head to the mix of old country and new rap blasting in his AirPods, he used music as motivation in the absence of a crowd, skating his way to a bronze medal for the United States last week.

“I feel like I’m on this high and I don’t know if I’ll ever come down. I’m so stoked, I’m so fortunate,” Eaton said three days after the competition. “To take home that bronze, I’m just trying to re-create the moment in my head. It’s surreal and I’m just so blessed.”

The women’s park skateboarding competition took place Wednesday with Sakura Yosozumi, 19, and Kokona Hiraki, 12, taking gold and silver for Japan, and Sky Brown, 13, taking home bronze for Britain. The men’s park competition will take place Thursday, when Cory Juneau, 22, Heimana Reynolds, 23, and Zion Wright, 22, will represent the United States.

Eaton’s bronze medal in the men’s street contest marks the U.S.’ first and only medal in street skateboarding’s inaugural Olympic competition. Japan’s Yuto Horigome, 22, took home the gold, while Brazil’s Kelvin Hoefler, 28, took home the silver. In the women’s street contest, Momiji Nishiya, 13, and Funa Nakayama,16, won gold and bronze for Japan, while Brazil’s Rayssa Leal, 13, took home silver.

Skateboarding has long been considered a counterculture activity associated with rebellion. Many in the skateboarding community have high hopes that the Olympic spotlight will encourage people around the world to get interested in the sport.

Bronze medallist Jagger Eaton on the podium at the end of the men’s street prelims during the Tokyo Olympics at Ariake Sports Park Skateboarding in Tokyo on July 25, 2021.Jeff Pachoud / AFP – Getty Images

U.S. women’s street skateboarding team member Mariah Duran, 24, said she hopes to see not only growth of the sport, but also understanding of the pure love and dedication people feel for it.

“We love this,” she said. “We’re skating on flat ground in front of the [Olympic] village because we love to do that … our board is attached to us.”

U.S. men’s street skateboarding team member Jake Ilardi, 24, experienced firsthand evidence of the growing popularity of the sport when traveling back home from Tokyo after his Olympic competition.

“When I was on the way back from Japan going home to Sarasota, this lady came up to me and said, ‘Hey, we watched the Olympics this weekend and my daughter wanted to skateboard because she saw you skateboarding,’” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow, no way!’ and she showed me the picture of her daughter who had just got a brand-new skateboard.”

However, the inaugural Olympic skateboarding competition in Tokyo also drew some criticism.

The Olympic skatepark was outdoors, without substantial protection from the elements. The temperature in Tokyo was already hotter than 86 degrees Fahrenheit when the competition began July 25 and rose throughout the day.

“I feel like the weather did get to a lot of the competitors, and I don’t want to blame them. It got to me too,” Eaton, who is from Mesa, Arizona, said.

Chris Roberts, a former professional skateboarder and host of the skateboard interview podcast “The Nine Club,” said the outdoor competition site stands in contrast to events held by Street League Skateboarding, a professional street skateboarding competition, which typically holds competitions indoors.

“Having it in an indoor arena would be sick,” Duran said.

Mariah Duran of the United States competes in the women’s street skateboarding finals at the Tokyo Olympics on July 26, 2021.Ben Curtis / AP

Duran and Roberts also said that there’s room for improvement in the coverage street skateboarding received at the Olympics.

“For the people who wanted to tune in and watch, I know it was a little bit difficult to try to figure out how to do it,” Duran said.

Roberts said there also appeared to be a lack of focus on the athletes, as compared to other high-profile sports.

“I think they really missed the mark on putting skateboarding personalities in the right place,” he said. “I feel like when I’m watching other sports in the Olympics, they’re talking about the sport and giving backstories of people and this and that, and these pieces that they do on them, and I just didn’t see any of that.”

Still, Ilardi pointed to the exposure the sport gains by being included in the Olympics.

“I just hope it grows skateboarding,” he said. “My main goal going to the Olympics wasn’t even the medal, it was to inspire more people to skateboard.”

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