On a scorching afternoon in Tokyo, a pair of 13-year-old skateboarders turned the world’s biggest sporting event into their own personal playground. They darted around the park, hopped over obstacles and grinded down rails in a show of skill and youthful exuberance.
Many sports are children’s games at their cores after all, you just don’t always see kids rising up quite like this on the world stage.
Thirteen-year-old Momiji Nishiya gave host nation Japan more to cheer about in the Olympic skateboarding competition, out-dueling Brazilian Rayssa Leal, also 13, and Japan’s Funa Nakayama, the elder stateswoman at 16, for the women’s street gold medal Monday afternoon at Ariake Urban Sports Park.
“I’m really happy,” an understated Nishiya said.
With skateboarding making its debut at the Tokyo Games, Nishiya is the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the sport.
She is also the youngest athlete to win an Olympic gold medal for Japan. The previous record was set by swimmer Kyoko Iwasaki at the Barcelona Games in 1992, when she became the youngest swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal at 14.
Nishiya fell on her first two attempts in the best trick portion of the finals before bouncing back to surge into the lead.
“I didn’t think I was going to be able to win, halfway through,” she said in a televised interview with NHK shortly after the results were announced. “But the other skaters were encouraging me so I felt like I could go on.”
Nishiya finished with a score of 15.26 points to claim the gold. Leal took silver with 14.64 points and Nakayama claimed bronze with 14.49.
Nishiya made it a perfect 2-for-2 for Japan in the street skateboarding competition at the Tokyo Games. Yuto Horigome won the men’s title on Sunday.
“His performance was amazing,” Nishiya said.
Despite her age, Nishiya already knows her way around the podium. She earned a silver medal at the Summer X Games in Minneapolis in 2019 and was the runner-up to Aori Nishimura at the world championships in June.
The young Olympic medalists were the last three skaters of the day and were already assured of medals before their final tricks. The only thing left to decide was the color.
Leal, who was in second place, went first but tumbled to the ground after attempting a backside smith grind down the 12-stair handrail.
Nishiya was in the lead, but instead of playing it safe she capped her run with a stylish gap to lipslide that netted her 3.43 points.
“I did my best and I won a gold medal,” Nishiya said.
The final order was set when Nakayama fell on her last attempt.
Afterward, the Japanese medalists said they were hopeful their accomplishments would lead to a more welcoming environment for skateboarders.
“I hope we will see many more parks to practice in,” Nakayama said.
Her own journey started in a skatepark when one was built in her hometown of Toyoma and her father suggested giving skateboarding a try.
Leal also finished behind Nishiya at the world championships in June, where she placed third.
“I’m very, very happy,” she said. “I’m happy to make this dream come true. It’s a dream for my parents and it’s a dream to be at the Olympics.”
Nishimura, a two-time world champion, had a disappointing showing. She fell twice during her opening run of the final and only managed to land one trick in five attempts to finish at the bottom of the final-round standings.
The Olympic skateboarding competition will resume with the park event on Aug. 4 and 5.
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