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Skateboarding at the Olympics, and Team USA’s biggest challengers, explained

Tokyo will be the first time skateboarding is being added to the slate of summer Olympic sports, and at first glance Team USA is the 10,000 pound elephant in the room. However, there’s a lot more going on that could surprise anyone assuming gold is a foregone conclusion for the United States.

It’s unquestionable that the United States has led the charge in world skateboarding since the inception of competition in the mid 1970s, but an unparalleled level of parity has entered the sport recently. Yes, it’s true USA pioneered skateboarding and dominated the X Games in the past, but the days of an all U.S. podium have evaporated. Now it will be a battle to medal in skateboarding, making it one of the most compelling sports to watch this games.

What are the skateboarding disciplines at the Olympics?

Skateboarding is split into two competitions: Park and street. There is no vert competition on a halfpipe at the Olympics.

Park is designed to represent a skate park atmosphere. It’s a blend of street elements and vert, using concrete bowls and humps to provide air time for skaters. It requires athletes to be well rounded, having skills to street skate — as well as grabs and flip moves to transfer from element-to-element while on the park.

via Olympics.com

The second is street, which is designed to emulate urban environments. While competition will take place in a custom-built course, it will be much closer to the feeling of skating on a street. Rather than bowls and lips, skaters will use ramps, rails and stairs to score points during runs.

Skateboarding at the Olympics, and Team USA’s biggest challengers, explained

via Olympics.com

Who is on Team USA?

A 12-member teams, USA will field three men and three women in each discipline.

Men’s Park

  • Cory Juneau
  • Heimana Reynolds
  • Zion Wright

Women’s Park

  • Jordyn Barratt
  • Bryce Wettstein
  • Brighton Zeuner

Men’s Street

  • Jagger Eaton
  • Nyjah Huston
  • Jake Ilardi

Women’s Street

  • Mariah Duran
  • Alexis Sablone
  • Alana Smith

Who represent USA’s best chances at gold?

Nyjah Huston has been a skating phenom since he first arrived on the world stage as an adorable 11-year-old at the 2006 X Games. Early potential gave way to reality with each passing year, as Huston evolved into becoming the skater the world hoped he could become. A street skating virtuoso, Huston is the No. 1 ranked competitor in the discipline, but he’s known for embodying the idea of “go big, or go home” happily trying to throw down massive, high-risk runs — sometimes to the detriment of his consistency.

Men’s park is where USA really has the Olympics locked down. Reynolds, Juneau and Wright are the 1st, 2nd and 5th ranked world skaters respectively — with each having a chance to bring home gold. Of the three it’s safe to say that Heimana Reynolds is the favorite with three podium finishes in the last six world events. However, much like most of world sports, international competition has been extremely limited over the last 18 months. There’s a huge chance to surprise from anyone in the world.

Team USA’s path to victory in both women’s disciplines is decidedly more difficult. It’s not a knock on the talent the U.S. is sending to Tokyo, but rather an acknowledgment of how brutal the international competition in women’s skating is.

Of the six women Mariah Duran has the greatest chance in women’s street. She won the most recent international competition. Duran has the potential to stomp down huge runs and challenge the grip on the sport Brazilian women have had.

Who are USA’s biggest threats?

In a lot of ways the power balance in world skating has shifted south, and east. Outside of the United States it’s the twin powers of Brazil and Japan who have been challenging to take the throne of world skating.

The fun part about this is what while USA splits the difference of being solid in both disciplines, the divide happens here as well. Japan’s Yuto Horigome and Sora Shirai are two of the best street skaters in the world, slotting in as No. 2 and 3 behind Huston. Horigome in particular is an absolute beast, marrying incredible ability with peerless consistency. In the last two years he’s never finished lower than 5th, and will unquestionably be duking it out for gold.

Meanwhile on the park side, it’s Brazil that rises to prominence. Luiz Francisco and veteran Pedro Barros could both press Reynolds for gold — but Francisco in particular has been inconsistent of late. The 20-year-old is definitely one of the best skaters in the world, but sometimes gets lost in international competition and with the strength of this field that could be a liability.

On the women’s side it’s going to take a massive mistake by Japan and Brazil not to medal. Japan’s 15-year-old Misugu Okamoto is one of the most exciting skaters the world has ever seen, and she’s the runaway favorite to take home gold in park. Meanwhile it’s Brazil’s Pamela Rosa, who’s run away with basically every women’s street event in the last two years, who is most likely to take home the gold.

The parity of this sport makes it so much fun

The knee-jerk reaction by the general public when skateboarding was announced was believing these would be USA’s medals to lose. However, in recent years strong challenges coming from all over, particularly Brazil and Japan, make skateboarding one of the most exciting events to watch at these Olympics.

Do yourself a favor and tune it to see what Nyjah Huston plans to throw down in Tokyo, and also check out women’s park. It might not be a USA win, but you need to see Misugu Okamoto in action. She’s incredible.

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