Skateboarding at the Olympics: why some welcome the inclusion of the sport

For any other sport, it would be a cause for celebration. But skateboarding is not a sport like any other.

In order for skateboarding to move from the counterculture to the mainstream of sporting events, for a certain subset of skateboarders, it is sold out.

“What people are against, what worries them, is that they are going to lose some of this freedom to explore,” said Neftalie Williams, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Southern California and visiting scholar at Yale. Schwarzman Center which studies skate culture.

For other skaters, however, Olympic skateboarding is an inevitable next step for a multibillion dollar industry with major professional competitions. Most importantly, it has the potential to transform the way the world sees skateboarding – and people skating.

Here’s why some welcome the inclusion of sport.

It expands the platform for marginalized skaters

Some of the most vocal arguments against Olympic skateboarding come from men and male dominated spaces.
It is a reality that does not escape Adrian Koenigsberg. She is the founder of Skateboarding, a medium dedicated to increasing the visibility of women, gender nonconforming people and other marginalized skateboarders.

Men, says Koenigsberg, have always had the platforms and opportunities to express themselves through skateboarding. They dominated magazine covers, managed to secure big name sponsorships, and held contests that women did not enter.

While the landscape has started to change, it’s hard to deny the opportunity the Olympics provide for LGBTQ women and skateboarders.

“For a very long time our history as non-traditional skateboarders has been erased in the media, so it’s really exciting right now to see this unfold at the Olympics and to have this public space,” he said. she declared. “Because for so long we have had to fight for these public spaces and all kinds of visibility.”

Margielyn Didal of Team Philippines competes in the Tokyo Women's Street Skateboard Final.
The Olympics are one of those rare occasions where women’s sports seem to get as much attention, if not more, than men’s sports. When the Japanese Momiji Nishiya and the Brazilian Rayssa Leal, the two 13-year-old girls, won gold and silver in last week’s street competition, were cheered by a worldwide audience.
There are perhaps more Olympians who identify as LGBTQ than ever before.  But there are limits to inclusion
It’s also huge for representation. US team roster includes world-class skater Alexis Sabloné, who identifies as queer, and Alana smith, which identifies as non-binary. For Nora Rector, a volunteer in the Montana skate community Girls on Shred which identifies as non-binary, that was refreshing.

“It’s a really great thing to see, especially for young people who have the same feelings, where they don’t quite fit one genre or another,” said Rector.

It exposes more people to skateboarding

The Olympics also have the potential to introduce skateboarding to people who otherwise might not have participated in the sport.

For staff at Brooklyn’s iconic KCDC Skateshop, skateboarding is a way to build self-confidence, learn to overcome challenges, and express yourself creatively. That even a few more young people can reap these same benefits is a reason to applaud his inclusion in the Olympics, said store owner Amy Ellington.

Japan's Momiji Nishiya competes in the Olympic street skateboarding preliminaries on July 26.

“If that means a kid in a small town can be exposed to this and understand what we think of skateboarding because they saw skateboarding at the Olympics, that’s such a positive thing,” he said. she declared.

Nathan Hutsenpiller, head of the KCDC store, has no illusions about the limits of the Games. Competitive skating is only a small part of everything skateboarding is all about. He thinks that being judged on tricks and routines does a disservice to a sport as subjective as this one.

But he knows that if he was a kid right now, he would love to see skateboarding at the Olympics.

“It’s almost an honor,” Hutsenpiller added. “Skateboarding is probably more popular than baseball in America right now.”

It could change the reputation of skateboarding

While skateboarding is still popular in the United States, the sport faces challenges here and around the world. Some communities have few or no places to skate, while others penalize skaters to dare to ride in public spaces.
Peru's Angelo Caro Narvaez competes in the men's street skateboarding qualifiers on July 25.

“The way we experience skateboarding in the United States is not the same as we experienced in Cuba. It’s not the way we experience it in South Africa,” said Williams, who has worked as sent for skateboarding abroad.

Even in Japan, where the first Olympic skateboarding competitions were held, skateboarding was long considered dangerous and those who did were seen as rebels and misfits. Although the arrival of the Olympics has somewhat changed the country’s attitude towards skateboarding, it is still frowned upon in some public places.

The Japanese thought skate culture was dangerous.  Now it's spreading

Seeing the International Olympic Committee recognize skateboarding as a sport and watching skaters from all walks of life compete in Tokyo could be a game-changer for countries where skateboarding is still discouraged.

“That’s what the opportunity is: for people to gain a new level of respect for all of us,” added Williams. “Skateboarding is individual and collective. We skate individually, and as we grow we add to the collective who it looks like and the stories we have.”

This is the last frontier of skateboarding

When Williams hears from people who think skateboarding doesn’t belong to the Olympics, he remembers a slogan popularized by a legendary Los Angeles skate collective: “Never stop jumping fences.”

For skateboarding as a culture to be avoided as an institution as powerful as the Olympics would go against what skating stands for: pushing boundaries and unleashing potential, he said.

“If we stopped exploring all the avenues we wouldn’t be skateboarders,” said Williams.

Team USA's Nyjah Huston competes in the men's street skateboarding final on July 25.

The beautiful thing about skateboarding, says Williams, is that it can coexist in so many ways. It can be an opportunity for elite athletes to work out their muscles, it can be a creative outlet expressed on city streets, and it can be a fun way to spend time with friends.

“The main thing is to remember that this doesn’t have to change for you,” he added. “If you don’t want to skate at the Olympics, you don’t have to skate at the Olympics.”

There may come a time when skateboarders decide the Olympics are no longer in their best interests, Williams says. But for now, these Tokyo Games offer a chance to redefine the sport and allow a wider range of skaters to see themselves represented on the world stage. And that’s, he says, the very essence of the skateboarding spirit.


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