With three gold medals from three events, Tokyo’s Ariake Urban Sports Park has been a home from home for Japanese skateboarders at the Tokyo Olympics.
Sakura Yosozumi was the latest to top the podium as park skating’s first ever Olympic champion, while her teammate, Kokona Hiraki, made history of her own as the youngest medalist since 1936 at the age of 12 years and 343 days.
Of the nine skateboarding medals handed out in Tokyo – the first time the sport has featured in the Olympic program – Japan has won five of them.
“After the decision was made for skateboarding to be included in Tokyo 2020, I think all the skaters strived to learn good tricks,” was Yosozumi’s explanation for her country’s dominance.
Another theme to emerge from skateboarding’s Olympic debut is success for some of the Games’ youngest ever competitors.
Great Britain’s Sky Brown, 13, claimed the bronze medal in Wednesday’s park skating competition with her last run of the day. It meant the three skaters on the podium had a combined aged of 44 – two years more than the medalists in last week’s women’s street final.
With an English father and a Japanese mother, Brown says she also “really feels at home” in Tokyo, though she discredited the idea that youth is a prerequisite for skateboarding success.
“Anyone can do skateboarding,” she told reporters. “You don’t have to be of a certain height or a certain age – you can do it whenever you want … You just got to skate and go for it.”
Temperatures rise in Tokyo
A temporary concrete jungle of ramps, rails, bowls, and stairs, Tokyo’s Ariake Urban Sports Park has now staged three skateboarding events at the Olympics.
The most recent, the women’s park final, took place on the hottest day of the Games so far as Tokyo and 39 other Japanese prefectures issued heat illness alerts.
But even as temperatures topped 35 degrees Celsius, the competition’s spirit and enthusiasm remained.
As soon as a competitor had finished a run and climbed out of the bowl, they were swamped by a barrage of hugs and high-fives from teammates and fellow skaters – a similar sight to last week’s street event.
And when Brown made a last-ditch attempt to get into the podium positions with the penultimate run of the final, it was an encouraging word from eventual gold medalist Yosozumi that helped the Briton land the kickflip indy she had missed on the previous two runs.
“She told me: ‘You got it, Sky. We know you’re gonna make it.’ That really made me feel better,” said Brown, who counts Yosozumi as one of her closest friends.
A score of 60.09 with her first run of the final, which featured back-to-back 540s, was enough to secure Yosozumi the gold medal – nearly 15 points higher than she had scored in the prelims.
Hiraki won silver with 59.04 and Brown bronze with 56.47.
Skaters are scored based on the difficulty and originality, with the top score from their three runs taken as the final result. They are accompanied by music and a stadium announcer who calls each trick from the sidelines.
When it came to crunch time in the park competition, all the medalists admitted to mostly feeling calm.
“We had so much fun and could do the tricks in a relaxed atmosphere,” said Yosozumi. “At a big competition like the Olympics, I thought I would be a little bit nervous, but I wasn’t nervous. That’s the reason I could skate well.”
For Brown, who became Britain’s youngest Olympic medalist at the age of 13 years and 20 days, participating in Tokyo comes off the back of a dangerous fall while training last year.
After flying off the end of a vert ramp at high speed, she fractured her skull, broke her left wrist, and suffered lacerations to her lungs and stomach. She then returned to competitive skating in May – although not without reservations from her parents.
“That accident was really bad,” said Brown. “It was a hard time for my parents. It was a hard time for a lot of people. Coming back and getting bronze is really so cool. I’m really happy. It really made me stronger.”
Brown now plans to unwind from the competition by going surfing – a sport she hopes to compete in at the 2024 Olympics alongside skateboarding.
Skateboarding has one more event in Tokyo – the men’s park competition, which takes place on Thursday – before turning to Paris for its second Olympic outing.