Brits skate to make sure Sky isn’t the limit after Tokyo Olympic success
Under the wave of euphoria that swept through British tennis this week following Emma Raducanu’s unfathomable US Open triumph, there was a wave of relief.
After largely squandering the successes of Andy Murray, Britain’s first female Grand Slam champion since 1977 offered the gaming authorities another, and most unexpected, opportunity, not quite a silver bullet but certainly a ticket to the game. However, in their mission to increase participation, strengthen facilities and ultimately produce a more cohesive stream of future major competitors.
Born in Miyazaki and based in Japan and the United States, though the nation was captivated by the 13-year-old’s courageous final run to win a historic Olympic bronze medal for the GB team earlier this summer, his route to Tokyo doesn’t exactly stand out as repeatable for those he might have inspired to grab a board and head to one of London’s skateparks or to the south bank of the Thames.
The sport therefore has work to do if it is to capitalize on the Sky Brown effect and make the most of its post-Olympic glow. Unsurprisingly, the wheels – four of them, secured under a plywood deck – are already in motion.
Iain Borden is a professor of architecture and urban culture at UCL and a skateboard enthusiast. Having started skating in London in the late 1970s, he experienced the evolution of the capital’s skate scene, watching the many shopping parks built around this time fail or fall into disrepair, then enjoying its regeneration in the over the past decade to a point where now “almost every borough you go to has skateboard parks.”
He recalls a brief altercation, during a planning meeting for the Crystal Palace Skatepark, which opened in 2018, at a time when the power of the Olympic rings became clear.
“One of the advisers said what an advisor always says,” he explains. “Why are we spending all this money in a skatepark? It’s a phase, it’s a fashion, it’s a craze, it’s going to disappear, it’s not a real sport. Why not spend it on tennis courts? ‘
“One of the other advisers said, ‘Oh come on, don’t be stupid, this is an Olympic sport.’ End of the conversation, immediately. The Olympics completely helped legitimize skateboarding as a sport. “
Today there are around 1,700 skateparks in the UK, including around 100 in London. (The fact that none of these are Olympic level is a gaping hole in the wallet, but conversations between Skateboard GB, UK Sport and the DCMS are ongoing to fill it, although a solution is likely still in the pipeline. a few years).
Sport also finds its way out of parks and into mainstream shop windows; The vans cordoned off a section of The Strand for use as a pop-up installation, Samsung’s KX experience at Coal Drop’s Yard hosted a basic ‘kick-flip’ tutorial for beginners and a free exhibit in the gallery, Improper, took place at Somerset House and is worth a visit whether you show up in Janoskis or boat shoes.
Increasingly, facilities, platform, and accessibility aren’t the primary barriers to talent generation, but facilities alone aren’t enough. As Borden says, “It’s like building a 5-a-side pitch and saying you’re going to produce the next Cristiano Ronaldo. You could, but there are a ton of other steps in between that have to come with it.
Earlier this month, Skateboard GB launched its new ‘Pipeline Pilot Project’, designed to support athletes aiming for Paris 2024 and, more importantly, establish a clear scale from the roots – or concrete – to international competition. for generations beyond.
“There has never been a path that other sports would understand,” James Hope-Gill, CEO of the organization, told Standard Sport, a revelation that is hardly surprising given that Skatebord GB does was even formed only the year following the creation of the sport he oversees. obtained Olympic status. Talent ID was largely the work of a guerrilla network of independent skate shops at the center of their respective communities and those riders good enough to earn entry into elite invite-only events were representing themselves and their teams. sponsors, rather than flags and nations.
That a sport often seen as anti-establishment should have such a thing as a “governing body” is an oddity in itself, and Hope-Gill is reluctant to simply cover up the structures that have brought Olympic success in established sports such as athletics or rowing, has determined that a more suitable approach is the right one. On the surface, the pilot pipeline project is a path to a path.
“We’re spending the next three years really trying to figure out what a talent journey should look like for us as a governing body,” he explains. “It won’t look like Taekwondo, it won’t look like badminton, it won’t look like hockey.
“In Paris, we should have a pretty good idea of what post-Paris looks like in terms of identifying talent and supporting those talents.”
But scratch beneath the surface and there’s something more at stake. The combined age of the six male medalists in Tokyo was 135, with an average age in the early to mid-twenties; young, but not wildly compared to, say, swimming.
It was only in the women’s events (86-year-old combined medalists, including three 13-year-olds and one 12-year-old) that we saw weird and youthful dominance.
Stefani Nurding, a Brixton-based skater with her own Paris 2024 ambitions, has been hitting the drum for women’s skating since she first stepped on a board, having grown up watching her brother skate while her own indoctrination was delayed by the idea that sport “was not for girls”.
“At the Olympics, we saw a generation of girls who grew up with it, it’s normal that they see women at this level,” she says. “You can see what’s coming out of it now, with people like Sky being able to grow up in a world where skateboarding is only for women. “
By making its Olympic bow, skateboarding was indeed presented as an egalitarian sport – same number of participants, same number of medals, same disciplines – and if that seems to go without saying, know that it is only this summer that Les Olympic staples such as cycling and swimming eventually carried identical programs for men and women.
“It always felt like no matter what the women were a bit left out,” Nurding adds, after seeing her own competitions move to tough times to leave the men in the main slots, or entirely separate days with less press. presence. “It wasn’t like that this time.”
Professor Borden agrees. He long thought that London’s skateparks were like village greens, gathering places for communities, where sport takes place, rather than the other way around, but, he admits, their inclusiveness has only been extended so far – so far.
“Imagine that your village garden is occupied only by teenagers and old people like me,” he says. “If you’re an eight-year-old girl or a 35-year-old woman, you might be thinking, ‘Am I allowed to be there?’
“Sky gave them the enthusiasm, the confidence and the right to enter skate parks.”
In this area and in so many others, Sky Brown has given her sport a springboard towards a future of which it is an integral part; we’re talking about an athlete who, on the relatively certain assumption that skateboarding is still on the agenda, will still be just 24 by the time of the 2032 Games in Brisbane.
The challenge for skateboarding by then is to develop a sport as big as its star.