By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – Skateboarding has always been a young person’s game but when the X Games kicks off in Minneapolis on Thursday, competitors as young as 10 will be fighting it out for the most prestigious prizes in the sport.
With skateboarding set to make its Olympic debut in Tokyo next year, the competition is hotting up with qualification events for the Games already underway.
The X Games does not count as a qualification event for Tokyo 2020 but for skaters it still holds a special place in their hearts as the key driver in bringing the sport into the competitive and professional era.
“(The) X Games is special, mainly because it has been around for so long. It is crazy,” nine-time X Games gold medallist and Olympic hopeful Nyjah Huston told Reuters.
“Major shout-out to those guys for getting skateboarding to the point where it is in the Olympics and stuff.”
The X Games was founded in 1995 and ever since has been seen as the pinnacle for skateboarders, with many choosing the competition to unveil their newest tricks.
Both park and street skateboarding – the two disciplines to feature at the 2020 Olympics – are on the schedule for the four-day event in Minneapolis.
For these four days, the skaters are keeping the Olympics out of their minds.
“The X Games isn’t related to the Olympics or anything like that,” stressed current street skating world champion Aori Nishimura.
“For me, the X Games is its own battle and its own contest. The Olympics is a different story.”
In qualifying for vert skateboarding on Wednesday, Brazilian Gui Khury became the youngest ever X Games competitor at 10 years and eight months old in a further indication of the growing strength of a new wave of pre-teen skaters.
Also in Minneapolis is Japan’s Cocona Hiraki, another 10-year-old, who will become the youngest female to compete at the X Games.
These youngsters are not only competing, they are winning and challenging the very best.
Misugu Okamoto, 13, currently leads WorldStake’s park rankings following her victory at the Dew Tour event in June, while 11-year-old Brazilian Rayssa Leal won the Skateboarding League World Tour event in Los Angeles on Sunday.
Many of his competitors are so young that 18-year-old Jagger Eaton, who held the title of youngest X Games competitor for seven years until Khury’s arrival on the scene, feels like a veteran.
“I can tell you from experience that … in two or three years you are going to see a whole new wave of skate athletes that are going to put so much pressure on the people chilling right now,” Eaton, who was 11 when he made his X Games debut, told Reuters.
“Everybody has got to keep your head up and your eyes wide open because these kids right now are hungry. I was there too but I am still hungry for success.
“There will be five to 10 kids in every single event that will beat out the old dudes in two or three years.”
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant, editing by Nick Mulvenney)