Teen and tween skaters from Japan and Britain soared to victory in the women’s park competition on Wednesday, while 18-year-old Australian Keegan Palmer claimed gold in the men’s contest on Thursday.
Much like in the street skateboarding contest, the women’s park winners were all under the age of 20, with hometown heroes Sakura Yosozumi and Kokona Hiraki cinching gold and silver, while Britain’s Sky Brown took bronze.
In the gripping women’s final on Wednesday, Yosozumi, 19, landed two 540s in her impressive first run, earning the highest score of 60.09 to vault to top place.
Thursday saw an equally electrifying men’s final, which flying Australian teen Palmer won with two giant scores.
Palmer, 18, showed off three controlled runs through the Ariake Urban Sports Park, landing lip tricks and massive 540s and setting a high of 94.04 in his very first run that became impossible for others to beat.
The San Diego-based Aussie then bested himself in his third and final run, adding in a 540 kick flip that earned the highest score of the contest with 95.83 points.
In silver, with 86.14, was Brazil’s Pedro Barros, who barrelled around the course, flying over the park's centrepiece island to earn his top score of 86.14.
Cory Juneau of the United States clung onto bronze, despite humid conditions with temperatures rising to 32 degrees Celsius (89 degrees Fahrenheit) in the final runs.
American Heimana Reynolds, the world number one and reigning world champion, did not reach the final after failing to complete any of his three rides in qualifying.
Japan, Brazil lead in medals
Wednesday’s result meant that Japan swept three out of four gold medals in skateboarding’s Olympic debut, while one went to Australia. Brazil, with three silver medals, also had a strong showing. The United States, which saw its favourites in both the men’s street and park contests crash out of medal position, claimed two bronzes but no golds.
Over and above nationality, however, the clearest winners of Olympic skateboarding were the teen and tween girls who dominated their respective street and park contests. More than half of the medallists in the women’s finals were 13 or under; the oldest, park winner Sakura Yosozumi, was 19.
Yosozumi, whose first name in Japanese means cherry blossom, told reporters she was focused on riding three perfect runs in the finals.
“I guess you can say I’ve bloomed though, right?” the skater asked reporters with a smile.
Fellow Japanese skater Hiraki, 12, also showed smooth runs throughout Wednesday’s competition, beating Britain’s Brown, who was the favourite to win the event.
With her silver medal, Hiraki became the youngest Japanese medallist ever, domestic media reported, overtaking a record set just days ago by fellow skateboarder Momiji Nishiya, a 13-year-old who won gold at the street competition last week.
Brown, who stumbled in her first two runs, came back to her usual form in the end, showing off 540 spins and flip indies in her final run.
“I was like, am I going to make it?” Brown said, referring to her first two runs.
“I’m just so happy to be here with my friends and I’m grateful,” she said, laughing with the other two medallists at a news conference.
“That was a hard time for my parents ... so coming back is so cool and it made me stronger,” she said.
From counterculture to podium
Far from the empty swimming pools of 1970s Southern California where this type of skating was born, skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo marks a turning point for the sport.
At times, the young skaters looked impossibly small against the giant grey and purple ramps and bowls at the Ariake Urban Sports Park that is emblazoned with the five Olympic rings.
Veteran vert skater Rune Glifberg, who, at 46, was the oldest to compete in Tokyo, said the teenage girls sweeping the medals showed how far the sport still has to go.
“Women’s skateboarding is only getting started,” he said. “It’s one step at a time and skateboarding is always progressing and that’s why we’re here,” he added.
In one of the most touching moments of Wednesday’s competition, skaters from Australia and Brazil rushed to comfort Japanese skater Misugu Okamoto, who went into the finals in the lead but kept failing to land one of her most complicated tricks in the finals.
After Okamoto, 15, picked herself up and walked out of the bowl wiping away tears, other skaters lifted her onto their shoulders to celebrate her runs.
“We all just really love skateboarding,” Yosozumi said.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)