Yuto Horigome of Japan won the first-ever Olympic gold medal in the sport, while American skater Jagger Eaton took home the bronze.
The First Olympic Skateboarding Competition
TOKYO — Minutes after the first Olympic skateboarding competition ended, the tattooed superstar with more Instagram followers than there are atoms in the universe was still sitting pretty on top of his board.
As though balancing on four wheels gave him the greatest sense of security, he answered questions while in this position.
Just in case he needed some reassurance as he tried to absorb what he had just experienced, the reason he had travelled halfway around the world, and the competition he was expected to dominate.
Nyjah Huston, looking neither sad nor elated, leaned forward and grabbed onto a metal railing in the neutral zone. He had hurt his wrist four days prior, and the heat at the Ariake Urban Sports Park was so intense that spectators would have died fighting for a spot in the shade.
Though Huston was Quick to Point out His Humanity
He emphasised that he was not at the meeting to offer explanations. This isn’t something that normally has to be mentioned, but on Sunday afternoon, it was.
That’s because Huston isn’t just a world-class skateboarder, and this wasn’t just another competition for a sport that went from being illegal in some jurisdictions to being featured in the Games with a big G. He made a pointless apology to the people he had disappointed.
The story of how he became so incredibly famous that only one name is needed to identify him (like LeBron, Serena, Sinbad, or Bono) could easily fill three feature-length films or equal the number of pages in seven Harry Potter books.
At the age of seven, Huston secured his first sponsor, and by the time he was ten, he had won the world’s largest amateur competition and was ready to turn pro. He became the most technically gifted skateboarder his sport had ever seen, and he made impossible stunts look regular.
His upbringing by reclusive Rastafarian parents in Davis, California shaped his eventual success. The Huston family of six (mother, father, four children) uprooted to Puerto Rico, landing on a farm so far out in the middle of nowhere that even the concept of “remote” may take offence. Separation from his parents.
He Made a Million Dollars
Relocated to California, and immediately got into conflict with the law. It was a party. With six world titles and twelve X Games crowns under his belt, he was unrivalled in the history of contest skating.
A Visit From the Biebs to Huston’s Personal Skate Park.
He appeared in an episode of Ballers in which The Rock starred. Millions upon millions of fans kept up with everything on Instagram.
But as Huston’s notoriety grew, so did skateboarding. The once-subversive activity had long since evolved into a hip and lucrative subset of sports that catered to the kind of young consumers that advertisers covet.
The careers of the athlete and the celebrity eventually crossed paths. Huston would not merely take part in the inaugural Olympic competition; he would triumph in it, winning the hearts of the many Americans who still had not warmed up to him.
After slapping fists with Kevin Durant at opening ceremonies and posing for photos with Katie Ledecky, the time had come.
Despite the presence of dozens of skyscrapers in the background, the presence of helicopters hovering overhead as if searching for fugitives, and the absence of “no skateboarding” signs, dozens of wheels ground on a Sunday morning at a venue constructed close to the Kyunaka River. There were handrails, benches, and stairs down in the concrete trough where the athletes dropped in.
The Competition Kicked Off
The competition kicked off at a most un-skateboarding time of 8:30 in the morning. Row after row of empty chairs witnessed it. Sure, announcing tricks in the X Games manner was in effect. Additionally, music played at decibel levels that are harmful to the eardrums.
However, this morning’s events didn’t sound anything like skateboarding, even if they looked like it may have. It was as if an occasion that had always celebrated its outlandish beginnings had achieved its zenith and then pressed the “mute” button.
The competitors took off in four different “heats,” each lasting 45 seconds. The judges evaluated each stunt and summed the results, eliminating the highest and lowest scores.
In spite of a slow start in the third heat, Huston managed to make it all the way to the final eight. His American teammate from the first heat, Jagger Eaton, did the same.
The Exciting Moments,
The competitors, in between the exciting moments, primarily took spills as they tried to land Olympic-level tricks with names that sounded like they came from a different language. There was a guy in all white, another in a grey bandana, another in black stockings, and yet another in chains or souvenirs or hats worn backwards.
It appeared like every skater had on a pair of AirPods and was listening to music at full volume while they proved they had perfected the art of elite balance.
The only audience that could be bothered to show up were the sponsors and the journalists, so the announcer yelled things like “Holy high definition!” at them.
Huston said the heat drained his stamina and turned his shoes become sweatpants between events. True, he faced severe circumstances, but he wasn’t the only one. He was still determined to succeed. After picking himself up from those early missteps, he set out to return his country to the top of the podium.
A short time into these Games, Kosovo, Iran, and Ecuador had already won gold. America had not done so at the time. However, that shifted in the time between preliminary rounds and the championship match. There was a sweep of gold, silver, and bronze for the United States in the aquatics centre.
Even so, the Odds were on Huston.
His words to himself before the final: “As a skateboarder, it’s not easy dealing with pressure in the first place.” The tricks were too well executed, with margins as narrow as fingernails that have been chewed down to the quick. Training that took months or even years could be undone by a single slip-up. That didn’t seem like a problem, since Huston doesn’t produce very many of those.
In the final, he didn’t make a single slip. He scored four. Four times in a row, he went down.
Jake Ilardi, a close friend and fellow countryman of Huston’s, has said that he doesn’t think Huston is under any special pressure because skateboarders can overthink tricks at any competition and that not even the best can always win.
They couldn’t make the vertical leap required, they’d fall, or they wouldn’t be able to rotate their body and board in unison at the precise instant necessary to land on the railing and slide backwards. The physics involved there are mind-boggling.
Huston’s losses from falling were greater than just his forward momentum. The right flip on the board eluded me,” he lamented. These mistakes cost him the gold medal, which went instead to Yuto Horigome of Tokyo, Japan, the son of a taxi driver who is now worshipped as a local hero.
Four out of five tricks were completed successfully by Horigome, ensuring his early placement in the top position. Among Huston’s teammates, the younger Eaton was the one to take home the medal. He said, “The Olympics are the greatest show on earth.”
He finished sixth, then skated to that mixed zone, addressing the questions on his board. There are days when the manoeuvres he makes look effortless suddenly look as tough as they truly are, but he says he’s come to accept those days as part of the sport.
As someone pointed out, Huston beamed at the news that skateboarding would indeed be included in the Paris 2024 Olympics. Broadly.
To paraphrase, “I’m going to be a little older then,” he said. Nonetheless, there’s a chance. Then he booted his board up, refused to answer any more questions, and skated off into a prosperous future, empty-handed but immortal.