International Sport

Japan Grabs the First 3 Skateboarding Golds

TOKYO — The formidable team of skateboarders from Japan continued their stellar performance at the Olympics and Wednesday combined to end the gold medal hopes of 13-year-old Sky Brown.

Sakura Yosozumi, 19, won the women’s park event under the blistering midday sun at Ariake Urban Sports Park. Her winning score of 60.09 was just ahead of 12-year-old Kokona Hiraki.

Japan has now won all three gold medals in skateboarding. The fourth and final event, men’s park, will be held Thursday.

Brown, who grew up in Japan, lives in California and competed for Britain, finished third to earn the bronze.

A victory by either Hiraki or Brown would have made them the youngest gold medalist in Olympic history. The official distinction remains with Marjorie Gestring, a diver who won at age 13 years and 268 days at the Berlin Games in 1936.

Brown stumbled late in her first two runs of the final but skated flawlessly on the pressure-packed third. After finishing, she raised her arms in the air, climbed out of the bowl and knelt on her deck, then got smothered in hugs from her competitors.

The judges were impressed, but not enough to give her the lead above the first runs by Yosozumi and Hiraki. Brown’s score of 56.47 left her in third place.

Yosozumi’s victory was not a big surprise. She won the Asian Games and a world championship in 2018, plus a Dew Tour event in May, the first international contest since the pandemic began. She wore a red shirt to compete, as she usually does, and a pink streak in her hair.

Misugu Okamoto, 15 and a favorite for the gold medal, came off the board on all of her final runs but still scored well enough to finish fourth.

The women’s park discipline in skateboarding had the youngest set of competitors in the Olympics, including one preteen, and they grinded and weaved their way before empty grandstands and a global television audience.

One by one, the skateboarders dropped into the concrete bowl and buzzed over its ramps and hips and up its walls, flying up and over the lip to twist and turn and drop back in again.

Runs lasted 45 seconds. Brown, Hiraki and Okamoto were among those who, from the beginning, stood out with bigger airs, more nuanced tricks and bursts of speed and confidence. When they finished, the competitors usually greeted one another with hugs of congratulations.

Brown fell midway through the first two of her three runs in the finals but stayed a medal contender.

Okamoto, too, put together a strong second run that she could not quite finish before falling off the board and skidding to her knees. Her score bettered that of Brown, pushing them each into a pressure-packed final run.

Brown and the three Japanese competitors secured the top four spots in the qualifying heats, followed by free-spirited 17-year-old Bryce Wettstein of the United States.

As Wettstein was introduced, she strummed a ukulele. She finished sixth in the final.

Hiraki was the second-youngest athlete among the 11,000 at these Olympics. She wore white Nike coveralls, like someone about to go painting, and turns 13 in about three weeks. (The youngest Olympian competing in Tokyo was Hend Zaza of Syria, a table-tennis player.)

Brown turned 13 last month. She is the effervescent daughter of a British father and Japanese mother, who grew up mostly in Japan and now lives mostly in Southern California.

“All three of them feel like home,” she said.

She competed in baggy pants and a tank top featuring the Union Jack. She gained notoriety in Britain by winning a juniors version of “Dancing With the Stars” in 2018. Her smile and Instagram posts have earned her fans in at least three countries. She has a younger brother named Ocean who has gained attention, too.

She was severely injured last year in an accident at Tony Hawk’s indoor skatepark when she flew through a gap in two high ramps, crashing at least 15 feet to the concrete. She was unconscious with a skull fracture and broke her left wrist and hand. A chipped tooth was repaired this spring.

“I was dead — well, not dead, but knocked out for, like, 16 hours,” she said in an interview in May.

She was back on a board a few weeks later, and appeared to be flying higher and skating harder than ever at the Olympics.

“Falling is part of skateboarding,” she said. “It’s part of life. I was honestly excited to get back on the board.”

Brown’s main rival at the Olympics was expected to be Okamoto, a quiet and straight-faced competitor, the best park skater of the past couple of years. She is part of a deep Japanese contingent that has captured more medals in skateboarding than any other country.

In the Olympic street discipline last week, the gold, silver and bronze medals went to young women aged 13, 13 and 16. It was celebrated as the start of a new generation. The day before, Yuto Horigome won the men’s street contest.

Skateboarding was added to the Olympics for just this reason — to add a jolt of youthful energy. It was especially true among the women.

What was less expected was just how well Japan would perform. Skateboarding has long been popular in Japan, an echo of the boom in the United States over the past two generations.

But skating in the streets of Japan is far more restrictive than in the United States. Few public places allow it, and seeing skateboarders on city sidewalks, especially in Tokyo, is rare. Skateboarders have reputations for being loud, rude and lawless.

Once skateboarding was added to the Olympics, more parents saw it as a legitimate sport. There was a rise in the construction of skate parks, considered more appropriate than riding in the streets, built mostly in out-of-the-way places and the corners of public parks.

More young skaters are taking to the sport, some getting coached from a young age. That trend seems certain to continue.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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