Skateboarding in the Olympics
By Donté-Kydd Richmond
Photo from Skate Newswire
After being enjoyed as both a profession and a hobby for decades, skateboarding will take a huge step forward in visibility as it makes its Olympic debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo (which are retaining their 2020 branding but will be held in 2021). Divided into street and park competitions, the event will take place at the Ariake Urban Sports Park in Tokyo on July 26 and 27 for the street competitions, and on August 5 and 6 for the park competitions.
Historically represented at events such as the X-Games and the Copenhagen Open, the introduction of skateboarding into the Olympics perhaps marks a turning point for the popularity of the sport; a sport that has long been a niche activity, characteristic of a unique subculture that is not always accessible, let alone well known, to the average person. Long seen as rebellious and irreverent, the inclusion of skateboarding in an event as globally mainstream as the Olympics is new to skaters and novices alike, and reception to this event has gone in different directions.
Many see the introduction of skating in the Olympics as a good thing; a win for skateboarding worldwide that allows for both wider recognition and less negative perception for the sport. Rick Maese’s article for The Washington Post (titled “Skateboarders wonder whether the Olympics will change sport’s renegade image”) asks people close to the sport their thoughts on the move; “Honestly, I think skateboarding would be just fine if it wasn’t in the Olympics,” says Ryan Sheckler, a highly accomplished American skateboarder, “but now it’s here, and I think it can open the eyes to a whole new generation. People are going to see it’s not something to be frowned upon. It’s not a crime. It’s in the Olympics now. It’s like super official.” Young skateboarder Brighton Zeuner remarked, “I remember thinking: ‘Okay, that’s pretty cool. The Olympics — I guess that’s what I want to do now.’”
Other opinions on the matter weren’t as positive; Tony Alva, a pioneer of vertical skateboarding and an undeniable legend of the sport, had things to say about it. “Skateboarding as a creative art form needs to disassociate with political corruption and a greedy IOC [International Olympic Committee] association,” Alva told Highsnobiety, “the athletes are the only people that really have any soul. They too are being exploited for all the wrong reasons. Keep it real. Boycott the Olympics. Unless they clean up their act.”
Obviously there is doubt about the sincerity of this acceptance of skateboarding culture by an event as highly regarded and sophisticated as the Olympics. Will its inclusion dilute the sport and water down the authenticity of its culture and lore? Or will increased exposure breathe new life into the already vibrant scene?
The answer to that question depends on who you ask. Kit McConnell, sports director for the IOC, assured every one of the Olympics’ noble intentions; “We want to keep that spirit of skateboarding,” McConnell said, “it’s not just about taking skateboarding and making it feel like another Olympic sport. It’s about taking what’s very special about skateboarding and adding that onto the Olympic stage.” While some experts and pioneers of the skateboarding world may feel skeptical, others are hopeful. “I think some people are scared it’s taking away the identity of skateboarding,” said Ryan Sheckler, “kind of that renegade, go out, skate where you’re not supposed to skate, have fun with friends and party. But it’s not going to take anything away from that. The sport is about freedom. No one is forcing anyone to go to the Olympics or skate in contests.” Sean Malto, another highly recognized skater, commented on how many don’t see skateboarding as a sport at all, and how the Olympics might change that. “Of course I hear people talk about the Olympics and if that’s going to change things. It definitely will,” said Malto. “It makes things a little more regimented. But I also think you get eyes on the sport, you get people involved at another level.”
As diehard sports fans and everyday viewers alike await the Olympics, an entirely new demographic now also has something to look forward to. In the grander scheme of things, we are all anticipating how these skateboarding events will ultimately impact the popularity, validity and connotations of the sport. Whether you are hopeful or pessimistic for how this will play out, skateboarding will never be the same.