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If you ever want to feel like you’re living inside a real-life version of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game series, get tickets to a skateboard competition. While gymnastics might have double pikes, layouts and half turns, here, as in the video games, it’s all about boneless disasters, judo transfers and feeble grinds. Even the soundtrack to which the skaters compete is reminiscent of the classic game.

And Japanese skateboarders were clearly enjoying themselves on Wednesday as the sport’s park event made its Olympic debut at Tokyo’s Ariake Urban Sports Park.

Japan’s Sakura Yosozumi, 19, won gold in the women’s park competition with a best score of 60.09, edging out silver medalist Kokona Hiraki, 12, on 59.04. Yosozumi laid down her best score in her first of three runs and it proved to be enough to put her on top of the podium despite crashes in her second and third runs.

“I didn’t perform at my best, but I’m happy that I managed to win a gold medal. I’m happy to win the first-ever Olympic competition,” Yosozumi said. “I don’t regret anything, I practiced so hard, and I think that led to the results. I want to convey my happiness to my family.”

The silver won by Hiraki makes her the youngest athlete to medal for Japan and the youngest to medal for any country since 1936.

Still, Hiraki was barely the youngest athlete on the podium. Thirteen-year-old Sky Brown, who was born in Japan to an English father and Japanese mother but opted to compete for Great Britain, took bronze with 56.47.

Sakura Yosozumi of Japan competes in the women's skaterboarding park final on Wednesday at Ariake Urban Sports Park. | REUTERS
Sakura Yosozumi of Japan competes in the women’s skaterboarding park final on Wednesday at Ariake Urban Sports Park. | REUTERS

The park event made its debut at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics following last week’s street competition and turned out to be another sport dominated by Japanese teenagers.

Going into the women’s final, three of the top four athletes were Japanese, with Misugu Okamoto, 15, qualifying in first place, Hiraki in third and Yosozumi in fourth. Brown occupied the second spot. Okamoto eventually finished in fourth place with 53.58, just missing out on bronze and a clean sweep of the medals for Japan.

In the final, each athlete had three 45-second attempts in the bowl, with their single best run counting as their final score. The bigger the air out of the top of the bowl, the more options each skater had for tricks, but points were also awarded for creativity, originality and flow around the bowl.

The park competition is taking place in a large, purpose-built bowl at Ariake Urban Sports Park and the men’s competition will follow on Thursday. With no shade built over the stadium, the temperature clocked in at 34 degrees Celsius but felt closer to 41 C when factoring in sun and humidity.

The young age of the competitors helped create a friendly atmosphere throughout the competition, with even rival skaters passing along good vibes to their fellow competitors with big cheers and hugs after flashy runs or big crashes.

Japan's Sakura Yosozumi (left) and Britain's Sky Brown share a laugh. | AFP-JIJI
Japan’s Sakura Yosozumi (left) and Britain’s Sky Brown share a laugh. | AFP-JIJI

Everyone — athletes, coaches and Olympic officials in attendance — seemed stoked just to be in Tokyo for the sport’s Olympic debut.

“It’s insane to be here,” said Brown in the postcompetition news conference. “Sakura’s one of my best friends. Kokona is a really good friend too. Being on the podium together, it’s so crazy.”

Japan’s success in skateboarding — with the country now boasting all three skateboarding gold medalists going into the final event, the men’s park competition on Thursday — comes despite a lack of easily accessible places to skate. Skateboarding is prohibited in many public spaces and has a stigma attached to it, with some seeing it as being part of a rebellious subculture. Many skateboarders in Japan have experienced being stopped or questioned by the police while out on their boards.

For Yosozumi, it had taken her three hours to get to the closest skate park, in Kobe, from her home in Wakayama Prefecture, according to NHK.

It was only once the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of the park in Kobe that she was able to practice at her house. A local brewing company gave her space in a warehouse to build a park and to continue training throughout the pandemic.

“One year ago I got a private park, which is one of the major reasons I was able to win gold,” said Yosozumi. “But there is no public skate park in Wakayama, and after this I’d like to see one built there.”

Japan's Kokona Hiraki competes during the qualification heats for the women's park event at Ariake Urban Sports Park. | REUTERS
Japan’s Kokona Hiraki competes during the qualification heats for the women’s park event at Ariake Urban Sports Park. | REUTERS
Sakura Yosozumi of Japan (right) celebrates after winning gold, alongside teammate and silver medalist Kokona Hiraki. | REUTERS
Sakura Yosozumi of Japan (right) celebrates after winning gold, alongside teammate and silver medalist Kokona Hiraki. | REUTERS
Great Britain's Sky Brown competes during the qualification heats for the women's park event at Ariake Urban Sports Park. | REUTERS
Great Britain’s Sky Brown competes during the qualification heats for the women’s park event at Ariake Urban Sports Park. | REUTERS
Sakura Yosozumi (right) and Kokona Hiraki of Japan show off their medals following the women's skateboarding park event. | KYODO
Sakura Yosozumi (right) and Kokona Hiraki of Japan show off their medals following the women’s skateboarding park event. | KYODO

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