More Sports

Okamoto keeps Olympic thoughts on back burner

AFP-JIJI

Teenager Misugu Okamoto is refusing to entertain thoughts of Tokyo Olympic gold despite becoming skateboarding’s youngest world champion over the weekend.

The 13-year-old captured the skateboarding park world title in Sao Paulo on Saturday, beating out countrywoman Sakura Yosozumi with Britain’s Sky Brown placing third in a preview of Tokyo 2020, when the sport will make its Olympic debut.

But tiny Okamoto, who has won the last five competitions she has entered in a sizzling run of form, including gold in her first appearance at the prestigious X Games last month, is keeping her feet firmly on the ground.

“I didn’t think about the win streak, or being the youngest world champion,” she told AFP.

“I don’t feel like I’m the best in the world,” added the bashful teen, who scored 61.17 points to beat Yosozumi (60.00) and the 11-year-old Brown (58.13), who is bidding to become the youngest female to compete at the Summer Olympics in 50 years.

“I have no idea about the Olympics yet, but I will work with my coaches to keep pushing to learn new tricks and to go bigger.”

Okamoto insisted she wants to be recognized by her peers in the skateboarding scene, regarding it as being as much of a lifestyle as a sport, similar to how surfers see their sport, which will also make its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

“Skateboarding is not just based on competition,” she said.

“I want to be one of the best from a cultural perspective. I’m still a long way from that, but that’s my vision.”

Okamoto’s coach, Ray Takahashi, explained the thought process that drives his young charge.

“We don’t look at skateboarding as a sport, there’s more to it,” he said.

“There is some heavy history and culture in skateboarding. When you are recognized as one of the top skaters in the scene, that’s when she can claim that top skater status. You can’t just win contests and be a top skater.”

Brown, who has a Japanese mother and lives in Miyazaki, had hoped to represent Japan at the Olympics before opting to compete under the British flag.

Okamoto, who stands at just 142 cm, combines a smooth-flowing technique with an ice-cool temperament that belies some of the fiendishly difficult moves she effortlessly pops out.

Japan’s depth in women’s skateboarding is a strength, with 10-year-old Kokona Hiraki, Mami Tezuka and Yosozumi among the country’s Olympic hopefuls.

Precious points in the race to qualify for Tokyo 2020 were on offer in Brazil over the four-day event, which also served as the seeding competition for next year’s Olympic preliminaries.