Ten-year-old skateboarding sensation Sky Brown, who had been a medal hope for Japan at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, on Thursday opted to qualify under the British flag.
The pint-sized YouTube smash, born to a Japanese mother and a British father, said she had made the decision because Britain offered a more relaxed approach.
“I chose to compete for Britain because they told me ‘Have fun, there’s no pressure!’ — and I feel like that’s the best way for me to skate my best,” said Japan-based Brown, the world’s youngest professional skateboarder.
“I want to work hard and try my best, but I mostly skateboard for fun — it’s my happy place.”
Japanese skate officials struggled to match Britain’s technical know-how and structure, leaving Brown to make a difficult choice — and one which could potentially cost the Olympic host nation a medal.
“It would be really cool to qualify (for Britain’s Olympic team),” said Brown, who is also a professional surfer and has just become Nike’s youngest athlete.
“It’s really cool that the Olympics will be in Japan because it’s my home, it’s where I was born,” added Brown, who lives in Miyazaki, southern Japan.
“It will be super-special.”
Japan skateboarding bosses reacted philosophically to the news.
“We would have liked Sky to skate for Japan, but it’s her choice and we wish her luck,” said Takehisa Miyazawa, chairman of the skateboarding committee of the Japan Roller Sports Federation.
“Japan has good depth in women’s skateboarding,” he noted, pointing to teenagers Sakura Yosozumi and Kisa Nakamura.
“I’m confident Japan will do well at the Olympics.”
Brown will hope to become Britain’s youngest-ever summer Olympian at the 2020 Tokyo Games at just 12.
Videos of Brown, who began skating before she could walk, have gone viral with over 50 million views, and her Instagram account already has more than 300,000 followers.
The freckled schoolgirl with sun-bleached hair landed her first major sponsorship deal at age 7and has perfected tricks no other woman has pulled off.
“I skate a little differently than all the other girls,” said Brown, who won a World Cup event in Estonia last month. “I wanna do the tricks that boys do.”
Despite her outrageous talent, the teeny boarder, who stands just 1.34 meters, has faced resistance from some event organisers reluctant to allow her to compete and risk embarrassing established skaters.
When she was 8, Brown became the youngest skater to compete at the Vans US Open, placing higher than women old enough to be her mother.
She subsequently set her sights on Tokyo 2020 when the sport makes its Olympic debut, along with surfing, karate and sport climbing.
The Olympic skateboarding qualifiers have not yet been set, but the sport’s governing body has imposed no Olympic age limit.
“If I could win gold that would be pretty cool,” said the multi-talented Brown, who last year won the junior competition on American hit show “Dancing with the Stars” and has just made her catwalk debut in Paris.
“But I’ll just be glad to go to the Olympics and feel good to be the youngest there,” she added.
“I also want to show girls that it doesn’t matter how old you are — you can do anything!”