Skateboarding·CBC Explains

Sky's the limit as skateboarding soars to new heights at Olympics

Skateboarding is making its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020. Here's everything you need to know about a sport featuring 12- and 46-year-old Olympians.

Everything you should know about the sport's debut at Tokyo 2020

Sky Brown is set to become England's youngest Summer Olympian ever when she competes in skateboarding at Tokyo 2020 at age 13. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Skateboarding is making up for lost time.

The sport's Olympic debut in Tokyo will cover generations of athletes, from 46-year-old Rune Glifberg (known as 'The Danish Destroyer') to 12-year-old Sky Brown of England (no nickname needed).

At 53, Tony Hawk didn't attempt to qualify. But he'll still have a presence as a correspondent for NBC Sports.

Here's everything else you should know as skateboarding lands on the Olympic stage:

The basics

Twelve skateboarding medals will be won in Tokyo, split across two disciplines (street, park) each for men and women.

In street, 20 competitors perform two 45-second runs plus five individual tricks each on a course that includes handrails, benches, curbs, stairs, walls and slopes.

Runs consist of an athlete moving through the course with fluidity and creativity. Individual tricks are what you're thinking: grinds, jumps and spins, advanced kickflips, etc...

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Each run and trick are scored by a panel of five judges, with the best and worst grades thrown out and the other three averaged to produce seven total scores, each on a scale of 0 to 10.

The eight athletes with the best combined score of their top four runs or tricks advance to the final. The same format is then repeated to determine who stands on the podium.

Meanwhile, the park competition is performed in a bowl that allows athletes to reach higher speeds and gain more air on jumps.

Twenty athletes perform three 45-second runs, with only the best one counting toward qualification for the eight-person final. Once again, the format is repeated to determine medallists.

The participants

Brown, who will be 13 when the Olympics begin, is set to become the youngest British Summer Olympian ever.

But as recently as last year, her spot appeared in peril after a massive crash sent her to the hospital with multiple skull fractures, a broken arm and lacerations to her lungs and stomach.

"I thought it was kind of cool," Brown told The Guardian after watching the accident just eight weeks later.

Brown may also find Olympic support from the home fans, as her mother Mieko was born in Japan.

But she'll have competition from a 12-year-old in the park discipline: Japan's Kokona Hiraki will also skate in Tokyo.

Hiraki is sixth in Olympic world skateboarding rankings while Brown is third, meaning both could be in line to compete in the final.

In women's street, Brazil claims the top-two ranked boarders in Pamela Rosa and Rayssa Leal.

Canada's best hope for a skateboarding medal is Matt Berger, the 10th-ranked street skater.

Berger, like Brown, is benefiting from the one-year delay of Tokyo 2020 as he says a knee injury is now fully healed.

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The 27-year-old Kamloops, B.C., native placed sixth at the most recent world championships. Micky Papa, a 30-year-old Burnaby, B.C., native ranked 22nd in street, joins Berger in the event.

Both will be in tough topping American Nyjah Huston, the top-ranked athlete and one of two men to ever score a 9.9 — no one has ever received a 10 — on a single trick or run in Street League Skateboarding.

Huston also has 4.6 million Instagram followers and a signature Nike shoe, which tells you all you need to know about the popularity of the sport.

Huston's top competition is Japan's Yuto Horigome, who won 2021 worlds.

In men's park, Canada's lone competitor is Andy Anderson, a 24-year-old from White Rock, B.C., who landed a varial heelflip lean air — a trick he says he sticks around 20 per cent of the time — to squeak into Tokyo despite his ranking at No. 30.

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Two spots behind Anderson is Glifberg.

Instead of telling you which song was topping the charts when Glifberg was in his prime, just take in that The Danish Destroyer was featured in the very first edition of the video game Tony Hawk Pro Skater in 1999.

Glifberg also competed at the inaugural X Games in 1995, placing third in an event won by Hawk himself.

Though he won't compete in Tokyo, Shaun White — yes, that Shaun White — is ranked 27th in park.

Why now?

Japan's prominence in the sport may be the main reason skateboarding was finally added to the Olympic programme in time for Tokyo. It'll return for 2024 in another hotbed of Paris, and likely stick around for 2028 in Los Angeles, where the sport was birthed.

But some in the community aren't all that thrilled about skateboarding's new frontier.

Think about the Olympics, where rigidity and uniformity can promote patriotism over individualism.

That philosophy runs counter to skateboarding, which some see as more of an art and culture than sport. Thus, the idea of being assigned scores in the Olympics based on five judges, or wearing the same uniform as everyone else, goes against skateboarding's ethos.

Of course, the Olympics are also a great way to grow skateboarding. On the surface level, Huston's Instagram followers will surely rise, and perhaps he or someone else can enjoy the fame of snowboarders like White or Canada's Mark McMorris.

Beyond that, IOC recognition promotes individual countries to invest more in skateboarding, whether it's through national programs or in local parks.

Plus, skateboarding represents one key Olympic ideal. You can be 12 or 46, you can be recently injured or healthy just at the right moment. You can pretty much do what you want in the field of play. The barrier to entry is just a board and four wheels.

Skateboarding is for everyone.

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