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Olympic debut of women’s park skateboarding has a Japanese flavor
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AP

Olympic debut of women’s park skateboarding has a Japanese flavor

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Bronze medalist Sky Brown of Team Great Britain, gold medalist Sakura Yosozumi of Team Japan and silver medalist Kokona Hiraki of Team Japan celebrate after the Women's Skateboarding Park Finals on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Urban Sports Park on Wednesday, August 4, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

Bronze medalist Sky Brown of Team Great Britain (right), gold medalist Sakura Yosozumi of Team Japan (center) and silver medalist Kokona Hiraki of Team Japan (left) celebrate after the Women's Skateboarding Park Finals on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Urban Sports Park on Wednesday, August 4, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images/TNS)

TOKYO — Women’s park skateboarding made its Olympics debut at the Ariake Urban Sports Park, and before the first-ever competition had ended we already had a peek into the sport’s future.

After the 20-woman preliminary heats, the top four consisted of three diminutive Japanese aged 12, 15 and 19 plus Japanese-born Sky Brown, who lives in Oceanside, Calif., represents her father’s heritage of Great Britain and just turned 13.

They remained in the top four after the final late Tuesday night (San Diego time), just with the order shuffled. Japan’s Sakura Yosozumi and Kokona Hiraki went 1-2, followed by Brown and prelim leader Misugu Okamoto.

Encinitas, Calif., resident Bryce Wettstein brought her ukulele on the deck to play before the competition and finished sixth. Fellow Americans Jordyn Barratt and Brighton Zeuner, who also have San Diego ties, failed to advance to the eight-women final.

But here’s the thing: Brown and Okamoto crashed on each of their first two runs … and still scored enough points to be in the top four ahead of others who had skated clean. Brown finally stayed on her board and grabbed the bronze, but Okamoto never did. Her high score was still 53.58 points, closer to first (60.09) than Australia’s Poppy Olsen in fifth (46.04).

The common theme: They’re all small, all slight, all young, all agile, all athletic.

Britain's Sky Brown competes in the women's park final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Sports Park Skateboarding in Tokyo, Japan on Wednesday, August 4, 2021.

Britain's Sky Brown competes in the women's park final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Sports Park Skateboarding in Tokyo, Japan on Wednesday, August 4, 2021. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Said Yosozumi, the elder stateswoman of the podium at 19: “The reason that Japan is really strong, after the decision was made for skateboarding to be in the Olympics, I believe all the skaters tried to have good tricks.”

And the more complex spins and twists and flips require a lower center of gravity and narrow hips to allow for quicker revolutions. Yosozumi’s winning 45-second run included a pair of 540 spins, or 1 1/2 revolutions.

We have seen similar trends in gymnastics and figure skating, where the premium on getting and staying airborne skews the talent pool younger and smaller. Mami Tezuka, another mighty mite who finished second at the recent X Games park event in Vista, didn’t even make the Japanese team. She’s 14 and a couple inches smaller than the 4-foot-6 Brown.

It makes for faster and bigger skating, more air off the walls, more dangerous tricks. It also means more hours of training to perfect them, more professionalism, less spontaneity, less carefree ambience.

“Probably what they’re doing is working incredibly hard,” said South Africa’s Melissa Williams, who finished last and at 36 was the oldest skater here. “They’re putting in the time, they’re putting in the work. Obviously, they’re naturally talented but hard work also goes a long way. Sky Brown and the Japanese skaters, it’s just amazing to see their style and their speed and their height. It’s really inspiring.”

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Momiji Nishiya became Japan’s youngest Olympic medalist in history by winning the street event last week at 13. That lasted nine days, until Hiraki took silver in park at 12.

Brown also became the youngest medalist in British history and didn’t know that the 67-year-old German man in glasses speaking with her after the event was International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. (“Who?” she asked.)

But she did know she finally landed her signature trick, flying above the wall while spinning the board beneath her.

“I was a little shocked,” Brown said of her two failed runs. “It was like, am I going to make it? Sakura was like, ‘You got it, Sky. We know you’re going to make it. Go.’ I was a little nervous, but I’m happy to be here. I just wanted to land my trick. I didn’t really care about what place I got.

“I really hope I inspired some girls. I feel people think, ‘Oh, I’m too young, I can’t do it.’ If you believe in yourself, you can do anything. I believe in myself, and I’m here.”

Watching it all was Poland’s Amelia Brodka, who lives in San Diego and formed a nonprofit to promote women’s skateboarding with an annual event in Encinitas. She finished 17th but, like many of the skaters here, just performing in a bowl embossed with the Olympic rings was enough.

“The fact that this happened is absolutely mind-blowing,” said Brodka, 31. “It felt like as soon as they announced we’re going to be in the Olympics, all of a sudden all of the sports organizers who didn’t care to include women’s divisions before, not only did they start including women in their events but they started to develop prize purse parity. With that, we saw the level of riders rise.”

Which means?

“I am a bit concerned about where the sport might go, now that it’s an Olympic sport,” she continued. “I’m very happy to see it become more accessible to people all around the world, more skateparks being built, more jobs in skateboarding, more skateboarders, more people having fun skateboarding.

“It’s more about how people approach skateboarding and how the culture is maintained with this world stage. We definitely don’t want to see the scoring get too much like gymnastics or things become a bit too routine or have a certain point system for tricks. We definitely want to preserve the creativity and the fun and the passion. It feels like skateboarding right now, and we want to keep it that way.”

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