By Mari Saito
TOKYO (Reuters) -Yuto Horigome of Japan claimed the first Olympic gold medal in skateboarding after recovering his composure with high-scoring tricks in the final rounds held in his hometown of Tokyo on Sunday.
Kelvin Hoefler of Brazil won silver in the men’s street skating competition and Jagger Eaton of the United States clinched the bronze.
In a nail-biting final, Horigome stumbled through the two initial runs, but regained his signature cool in landing four of the five final tricks, earning 9.50 for a nollie backside 270.
The 22-year-old Horigome, whose father introduced him to the sport when he was a toddler, won the medal a stone’s throw away from where he grew up.
“It felt significant to return to Koto ward, it meant so much more for me,” he said. Horigome moved to the United States to pursue his skateboarding career after high school.
“I couldn’t miss the fourth trick so I put everything I believed and worked for into that trick,” he said, after describing how stressed he had been after two disappointing runs.
Skaters cheered each other on in an otherwise empty concrete skate park, hyping themselves up during their runs by listening to music as they battled Tokyo’s scorching heat https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/skateboarding-skaters-battle-under-brutal-tokyo-heat-inaugural-games-2021-07-25.
While Eaton and other competitors bobbed their heads to their Airpods, Horigome remained focused through the finals. At one point after he tripped during his two runs, a frustrated Horigome put his head in his hands.
Nyjah Huston, a U.S. skateboarder who fans expected to go head to head with Horigome for the gold, crumbled after landing the first trick with 9.09 in the final, eventually finishing in seventh place.
For many, skateboarding’s debut at the Olympics marks a turning point for the sport, which has its roots in youth street culture and has influenced everything from art to fashion.
By adding skateboarding to its programme, the International Olympic Committee hopes it can tap into its legions of fans worldwide, who have built skateboarding into a multi-billion dollar industry.
Despite the Olympic approval, skateboarding is still seen as a public nuisance and street skaters are often chased off property by police in Japan.
Just outside the skate park a poster taped to the exterior white fence banned skateboarding for locals.
“Skateboarding is so much bigger than a sport, it’s an artform,” Eaton told reporters after the final. “It’s a creative outlet and a lot of people just don’t see it that way, which is unfortunate.”
Brazil’s Hoefler agreed, saying he hoped the Olympics would make people “more chill” about street skating.
(Reporting by Mari Saito; Additional reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Kenneth Maxwell and Ed Osmond)