From 'delinquents' to Olympic stars: skateboarders look to change minds in Japan

Tokyo (AFP) –


Skateboarders are often frowned on as rebels and "delinquents" in Japan, but the Tokyo Olympics could turn them into heroes.

When skateboarding makes its debut at the Games, Japanese skaters stand to gain new respect as athletes, rather than being seen as a public menace, they said.

"You see stories on the news about people getting angry about skating in the streets," Akira Tanaka, 20, told AFP at a test event at the Olympic competition venue.

"I think if the skaters who appear at the Olympics can change that image, it will mean something."

Skate parks and ramps are few and far between in Japan, sometimes placing skaters at odds with pedestrians in crowded city streets.

But the perception that skateboarders are badly behaved does not ring true, said 16-year-old Sota Tsuji after skating on the Olympic course.

"Skateboarding is strongly associated with delinquents, but it's not really like that and I hope the Olympics can show that," Tsuji said.

"It's a cool, aggressive sport, and it would make me happy if people could see that."

Stars like America's Nyjah Huston and 12-year-old Sky Brown, who is Japanese-born but represents Britain, could become household names at the Games.

Skateboarding is one of four new sports at the Tokyo Games, along with surfing, sport climbing and karate, as Olympic chiefs try to reach a younger audience.

Star-in-the-making Brown will compete in the women's park competition after recovering from a horrific crash that left her with a broken skull.

"I see her on Instagram and other social media a lot, and I think she's a great skater," said 14-year-old Azumi Fujieda.

"If lots of people start watching her, I think it will help motivate me and make me think I can do it too."

This week's test was held behind closed doors, for coronavirus reasons, at park and street courses fully exposed to Tokyo's glaring summer heat.

"It was hot," Tanaka said Friday, when temperatures reached 28 degrees Celsius (82 Fahrenheit) -- far below the peaks expected at the summertime Olympics.

"There was a lot of heat getting reflected off the surface."

But Tsuji, who is aiming to compete at the 2024 Paris Games, had praise for the newly built site.

"It really lends itself to doing tricks, and I think they will be able to put on a great competition. I want to skate on it again," he said.

Friday's test event was closed to the public, and organisers are set to decide next month how many domestic fans -- if any -- can attend the Games. Overseas spectators have already been barred.