There will be more action sports on the Olympic program for Tokyo 2020, as the IOC looks to modernize the Games and make them more appealing to a younger demographic.
Skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing will take their places among traditional sports such as athletics and swimming during this year’s Summer Games — and the next Games, too, as all three have been approved for Paris 2024.
New sports means new athletes stepping onto the Olympic stage to represent their nations. With that in mind, here are a few athletes to keep an eye on across the Olympics’ new action sports menu.
Skateboarding (Great Britain)
Sky Brown is already assured of being Britain’s youngest-ever Olympian. The 13-year-old’s next trick could be becoming the youngest British athlete to win an Olympic medal.
Brown, who was born in Miyazaki to a Japanese mother and British father, actually qualified for the Games as a 12-year-old and then celebrated her birthday on July 7.
What Brown lacks in years, she more than makes up for in enthusiasm and skill. Brown is ranked No. 3 in the World Skate park rankings and finished second in a Dew Tour stop in Des Moines, Iowa, in May. She also took home a bronze medal in park from the world championships in 2019.
Brown suffered a scary injury during a training session in June 2020 that left her with a broken wrist and skull fractures. She was quickly back at full speed after recovering from her injuries, even skating with Tony Hawk, a legend in the sport, later in the year.
“She could definitely be one of the best female skaters ever, if not one of the best, well-rounded skaters ever, regardless of gender,” Hawk told ESPN.com in July 2020. “She has such confidence, such force, even at such a young age.”
Skateboarding (United States)
When it comes to street skateboarding, the 26-year-old Nyjah Huston is the gold standard. He’s the most popular competitive skateboarder in the world and has claimed more prize money than any skateboarder in history.
The California native is the world’s top-ranked street skateboarder and a four-time world champion. Huston has been on top of his game for years and owns the record for most X Games gold medals (10) and the most X Games medals of any color (16) from that event.
Huston nearly pulled off a four-peat at the world championships in Rome in June: His run ended with a narrow defeat against Yuto Horigome in the final.
Huston has a big bag of tricks and more than enough skill and precision to execute them smoothly.
Huston’s presence could attract the coveted youth demographic the IOC has been chasing in recent years. He has a huge following on social media, has a number of endorsements and is also among the skaters featured in the latest edition of skateboarding legend Tony Hawk’s popular video game series.
Huston will be favored to add an Olympic gold medal to his already glittering resume.
Yuto Horigome made it clear he has what it takes to win the gold medal with his performance at the world championships in June, when he edged Nyjah Huston for the title.
“It’s a confidence booster,” Horigome told Kyodo News after the world championships. “It’s huge, stalling the momentum of the best skateboarder right now.”
Horigome has won one X Games gold medal and has also won titles on the Dew Tour and in Street League Skateboarding. He’s ranked No. 2 in the World Skate street rankings behind Huston and just above Kanagawa Prefecture native Sora Shirai.
The 22-year-old is an extremely technically sound skater and a master of the Nollie 270 Switch Backside Tailslide — a trick where the rider, starting from the front of the board, leaps into the air, spins 270 degrees, lands on a rail with the back of the board and grinds down.
Horigome is based in California, but a homecoming duel with Huston could be one of the highlights of the competition.
Aori Nishimura is ranked behind top-ranked Pamela Rosa and No. 2 Rayssa Leal, both Brazilians, in the world rankings but will skate into the Tokyo Games riding the momentum of being crowned the 2021 world champion in June.
Like Horigome, the 19-year-old Nishimura was born in Tokyo and currently resides in California.
Nishimura, who began skating in elementary school, won her first X Games gold in 2017 but then tore the ACL in her left knee a few months later. Following her recovery, she bounced back with X Games golds at X Games Minneapolis and X Games Norway in 2019. Nishimura also has a silver and bronze medal in X Games competition.
Nishimura is a rising star. In 2019, she was featured as one of Time Magazine’s Next Generation Leaders alongside activist Greta Thunberg and actress Tessa Thompson, among others.
Nishimura is also featured as a playable character in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 video game, which has been released on various platforms since September 2020.
Australia’s Stephanie “Happy” Gilmore does not need a gold medal to validate her career, but the 33-year-old wants it all the same.
“As a surfer it’s something that I never thought I’d ever get the chance to do but here we are and I’m going to do my very best to bring some medals back to Australia,” Gilmore told the New South Wales Institute of Sport in June.
The Australian is one of surfing’s greats. She burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2007 and promptly won the world title — something no first-timer had achieved. She won the next three, too, before Carissa Moore won the crown in 2011.
That set the stage for the rivalry that will be in the spotlight in Tokyo. The pair have taken turns at the top, with Gilmore winning the title in 2012, 2014 and 2018, and Moore taking the top spot in 2013, 2015 and 2019.
Gilmore, who has won the world title seven times, is currently ranked No. 5 in the World Surf League rankings and is a threat to claim a medal at the Tokyo Games.
John John Florence
Surfing (United States)
John John Florence was a dominant force in surfing before injuries began piling up.
The 28-year-old from Hawaii won the World Surf League crown in 2016 and again in 2017. He was riding high in 2019 before an ACL injury. He still finished that season in fifth place despite missing a number of events. He also managed to punch his ticket for the Olympics that season.
His spot in Tokyo was put in jeopardy in March when he injured his knee at the Margaret River Pro in May. Florence, though, feels he’s well enough to participate in the Games. Prior to injuring his leg, Florence scored the season’s first perfect 10 during that competition.
He has proven himself to be one of the best surfers in the world and is still among those with a good chance to claim a medal even with the questions about his health.
Florence is currently ranked 10th on the WSL Championship Tour.
Surfing (United States)
There are not a ton of holes in Carissa Moore’s resume and she is poised to fill in one of the few left at the Tokyo Games.
Moore, a native of Honolulu, is a four-time world champion and currently the No. 1 female surfer in the world. She is having another good year on the World Surf League circuit, with one win and no finish worse than third in six events, giving her a lot of momentum heading into the first Olympic surfing competition.
Moore began surfing when she was 5. Before turning pro in her teens, she surfed in the National Scholastic Surfing Association, where young amateurs compete, and won a record 11 NSSA titles.
She was the rookie of the year in what would become the World Surf League in 2010. As a professional, Moore began going head-to-head, and more than holding her own, against Gilmore.
Moore has been working on incorporating more aerial moves into her surfing ahead of the Games, adding another weapon to an already impressive arsenal.
Moore can speak some Japanese and was likely looking forward to interacting with fans during the games. While that’s no longer possible, she is still on track to be among the competitors with a great chance to win gold.
Igarashi was born in California in 1997, but has a connection to Tsurigasaki Beach (also known as Shidashita Beach) in Chiba Prefecture, where the Olympic surfing competition will be held, that stretches back many years before that.
Igarashi’s father, Tsutomu, used to ride those same waves in his younger years, often climbing over a fence and trekking through tall grass to get to the beach. Tsutomu and his wife moved to California shortly before Igarashi was born to give their child a better chance of embarking on a career in surfing one day.
The gambit worked out. In 2017, an 18-year-old Igarashi became the youngest rookie on the WSL Championship Tour. He earned his first victory on tour in 2019. Igarashi chose to represent Japan in the Olympics as a way to honor his family and compete on the beach where his father once surfed.
Igarashi is a promising talent, and will face stiff competition from others like Florence, high-flying Brazilian Gabriel Medina, No. 1 in the world, and his compatriot Italo Ferreira, the world’s second-ranked surfer.
Igarashi, no slouch himself, is currently No. 6 in the rankings.
Sport climbing (Slovenia)
All eyes will be on Janja Garnbret when the women’s sport climbing competition begins at the Tokyo Games.
At age 22, Garnbret is already considered to be among the sport’s greats. She is an expert in lead climbing and bouldering. In 2019, Garnbret won all six bouldering events to produce the first perfect season in the history of the International Federation of Sport Climbing.
Garnbret owns six world titles, two each in lead, bouldering and combined — which encompasses lead, bouldering and speed climbing. The gold medalist will be determined based on the scores from all three disciplines.
She’s been on a dominating run in the buildup to the Tokyo Games, where she could become the first woman to win an Olympic sport climbing gold medal. She is the sport’s best female climber and enters the games as the overwhelming favorite.
Her skills are not limited to indoor climbing walls. In February, she and Domen Skofic scaled the tallest chimney in Europe, located at Slovenia’s Trbovlje Power Station. They free climbed a new route on the chimney that is the world’s tallest artificial multi-pitch route.
Garnbret’s one weakness is speed climbing. Her results in the combined discipline, however, have shown she has more than enough in other areas to make up for it.
Sport climbing (Japan)
Tomoa Narasaki won the combined competition at the most recent world championships, in 2019, and is among the group of climbers thought to have the best shot at winning gold at the Tokyo Games.
Narasaki, 25, is a top-class boulderer, with three Bouldering World Cup wins and two titles in the discipline at the world championships.
Speed may be the great equalizer at these Games and Narasaki has also proven to be adept on the speed wall. He set the Japanese record of 5.727 seconds in March. Indonesia’s Veddriq Leonardo holds the world record at 5.208.
Strong performances in those two disciplines and a passing grade in lead could tip the scales for the Tochigi Prefecture native at these Summer Games.
Sport Climbing (Czech Republic)
Adam Ondra may be the best climber in the world. The Czech is proficient at both lead and bouldering and is the only man to win the world title in both disciplines in the same year — a feat he achieved in 2014.
Ondra, 28, is also the lone man to win the World Cup series title in both disciplines.
But if Ondra is climbing’s Superman, the speed discipline could prove to be his kyrptonite.
Ondra has said himself speed is the “discipline which I’m the weakest in.”
Unlike the other two disciplines, speed is a breakneck race up the wall. Ondra has been working on getting better and added weight lifting to his training regimen to deal with the demands of speed climbing.
“For speed climbing you really need, like, this raw power,” Ondra said on his YouTube channel.
Sport Climbing (Japan)
Akiyo Noguchi is retiring after the Tokyo Games, making this her first and last time in the Olympic spotlight.
The 32-year-old is strongest in bouldering and has won the IFSC Climbing World Cup in the discipline four times. She also has six second-place finishes, including in 2018 and 2019.
She is a three-time World Cup winner in the combined event. Noguchi was the silver medalist at the last two world championships.
Noguchi delayed her retirement when the Tokyo Games were delayed and used the extra year to try and close the gap between her and Slovenian ace Garnbret.
“Janja is my No. 1 rival, so I’m always aware of her,” Noguchi told Tokyo 2020’s official website in January. “I’m not sure about her situation, but for me, this postponement has been eventful. I try to think of it as a year given to me, so I want to make the most out of it.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.