Showing off a new wave of aerial acrobatics and risky board-flipping tricks, an international field of skateboarders outshined the Americans in the final skateboarding event of the Olympics, continuing the two-week demonstration of the sport’s worldwide reach.
The United States struggled to find the medal stand in a sport that it invented and pushed into the Olympics. Americans skated away with just two of the 12 medals awarded at the Tokyo Games, skateboarding’s Olympic debut.
They were a pair of bronzes — the first by Jagger Eaton in men’s street last week, the other by Cory Juneau on Thursday in men’s park.
The park competition, filled with high-flying spins, technical board flips and long grinds on the lip of the bowl at Ariake Urban Sports Park, looked to be the salvation for a U.S. roster deep in talent.
But only Juneau squeaked into the final. His best run there scored 84.13 points, behind Keegan Palmer of Australia, who won gold by scoring 95.83, and Pedro Barros of Brazil, who earned silver.
The world’s No. 1-ranked park skater, Heimana Reynolds of the United States, and his American teammate Zion Wright each fell short of qualifying. Both had arrived with reasonable hopes of earning medals.
Reynolds finished 13th, Wright 11th. But as Reynolds explained, with a smile on his face and a smiley face painted on the nail of his middle finger, the American export of skateboarding, as a sport and a culture, is global.
“Skateboarding doesn’t discriminate where you’re from, who you are or anything like that,” he said. “A lot of these people barely speak English, and they’re some of my best friends. We all share the same language of skateboarding, and I think that’s the most beautiful thing about it.”
Skaters said that the results may have reflected the pandemic. Skateboarding’s contest circuit shut down for two years, so skaters worked on new tricks privately, then sprung them on the Olympic stage.
Brazil’s Luiz Francisco, for example, earned the top spot in qualifications thanks to his series of risky flip tricks, where the feet leave the board as it rotates. One was a tre flip, where the board both spins 360 degrees and flips.
“When we first got here, the first couple days of practice, I definitely saw some tricks I hadn’t seen before,” Reynolds said. “And it really opened my eyes to, like, wow, look at the level that skateboarding is today.”
Skaters from Japan won gold in the first three skateboarding events: men’s and women’s street and women’s park. That should bolster the sport’s popularity in Japan, where skateboarding’s long history has unfolded mostly in the shadows.
The other theme for skateboarding at these Games had been the youth of many top competitors. The event had no minimum age requirement, so five of the six youngest athletes at the Olympics were skateboarders, all of them women.
At the women’s street contest last week, the medal stand had two 13-year-olds and a 16-year-old. At women’s park on Wednesday, all the medalists were teenagers, including 12-year-old Kokona Hiraki of Japan, who won silver, and 13-year-old Sky Brown of Britain, who won bronze.
The men’s events skewed older. The qualifying rounds included 46-year-old Rune Glifberg of Denmark, who won an X Games medal in 1995, before most Olympic skateboarders were born. Another 46-year-old, Dallas Oberholzer of South Africa, was also in the field, sporting a smile and graying stubble.
Each rode as a sort of ambassador to skateboarding’s past; both finished last in their heats and did not make the final.