BEYOND THE LOCAL: How skateboarding came to the Tokyo Games

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From aberrant sport to Olympic sport, skateboarding remains an essentially counter-cultural activity

This article, written by MacIntosh Ross, Western University, originally appeared on The Conversation and has been republished here with permission:

If the organizers could script the Olympic debut of skateboarding, they would likely change very little of what happened in Tokyo. Local skater Yuto Horigome, who perfected his art on the streets of Tokyo, won the discipline’s first gold medal in the men’s street competition.

The next day, 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya won Japan’s second gold medal in skateboarding, finishing on the top step of the podium in women’s street style to become the country’s youngest Olympic gold medalist and third. youngest in the history of the Games.

Many people may find it strange to see skateboarding at the Olympics. And that’s not an impairment of the skill or talent required to compete as an elite skateboarder – it’s odd due to skateboarding’s long history as a counter-cultural activity.

To participate in the Olympic Games, a sport needs an international federation which adheres to the Olympic Charter. Still, it’s hard to imagine that some, if not most, skaters would not laugh at Rule 1, which states “the supreme authority and leadership of the International Olympic Committee”.

What took place at Tokyo 2020 is only a small part of an activity, generally celebrated and cherished as a form of resistance against the mainstream culture. Indeed, in its most basic form, skateboarding is still an essentially counter-cultural activity.

Rooted in resistance

Skating as we know it today evolved mainly in the 1970s and 1980s, when innovators like Mark Gonzales (Street), Rodney Mullen (Street) and Tony Alva (Green) were experimenting with new ways of using boards. on casters.

In the mid-1970s, specially designed skateparks dotted the American cityscape. There were competitions, but there was little money to be won. Skating was all about camaraderie, creativity and personal expression.

In a 2018 article for Vice, Cole Nowicki describes skateboarding as an art. Like so many art that came before it, skateboarding opposed mainstream notions of proper leisure and recreation.

In an America dominated by sports with strict rules and regulations and confined to a stipulated playing field, skateboarding offered beautiful unstructured freedom. There were no scores. No stadium. No limits. Improvisation was celebrated, not castigated.

There was little money in the early days of professional skateboarding. The competitions paid almost nothing. The skaters filmed “parts” demonstrating their abilities, in the hope of securing modest sponsorship from companies specializing in the industry. When John Cardiel was named Thrasher Magazine’s Skater of the Year in 1992, for example, he was only making $ 500 a month as a professional skateboarder.

From the margin to the general public

The popularity of skateboarding eventually caught the attention of people with deep pockets. In 1995, ESPN hosted the first X-Games, encompassing skateboarding and eight other “extreme” sports.

Rather than the typical skate sponsors, the X-Games touted massive brands including Advil, Mountain Dew, Taco Bell, Chevy Trucks, AT&T, Nike, and Miller Lite Ice. While the X-Games put a new take on skateboarding, ESPN didn’t make skateboarders millionaires. The lifestyle of a professional skater has remained largely a struggle to make ends meet.

Skaters first really noticed the IOC when they staged a hostile snowboard takeover for the Nagano Olympics in 1998. As Dvora Meyers recently pointed out in Vice, the IOC flexed its organizational strength by rejecting the already established International Snowboard Federation (ISF) – the group truly responsible for the global spread of the sport – moving snowboarding under the umbrella of the International Ski Federation (FIS). Rival FIS events were staged, forcing snowboarders to choose sides, leading to the collapse of the IFS in 2002.

After enduring immense hostility within snowboarding for its treatment of IFS, the IOC was more cautious about integrating skateboarding into the 2020 Games. Although it looked like the IOC might hand over the jurisdiction over skateboarding at the International Federation of Roller Sports, a merger with the International Skateboard Federation was eventually achieved, producing the IOC-recognized federation, World Skate.

A mixed response

The skateboarding community is divided over incorporating their hobby into the Olympics. In 2016, shortly after the IOC announced that skateboarding was joining the mega event, Thrasher Magazine asked 33 professional skaters for their thoughts on the arrival of Olympic Skateboarding. Responses ranged from excitement to repulsion.

For many skaters, competition is an afterthought. Take John Cardiel, for example. Hailed as a legend in the skate subculture, Cardiel was known for his high speed style and daredevil risks. His reputation evolved in the field, seeking out the most challenging and interesting landscapes he could skate. His “partial” tapes remain popular, and although he is a sponsored professional, he sees skating as more than a sport.

“For me, skateboarding is about individuality and originality,” Cardiel said. Mocker. “It has nothing to do with the highest, the farthest, the longest. Skating being an Olympic sport contradicts everything I believe to be skateboarding. “

Cardiel’s career peaked in the 1990s before skateboarding was fully marketed through the X-Games and comparable events. But for skaters who rose to prominence in the 2000s, like American Olympian Nyjah Huston, the Olympics are another opportunity to expand the sport.

Huston has won 12 gold medals at the X-Games and four world championships and his vision for the Olympics could not be more different from that of Cardiel: “I am excited about the opportunity to be able to skate at the Olympics! Whether people like it or not, skateboarding is doomed to become bigger things like this sooner or later. So in my eyes it might as well be now.

Silver lining

2017 Vans Park Series world champion Nora Vasconcellos has spent her young career balancing competition with the more traditional ‘partial’ videos that have made Cardiel a sports icon. Although the women skated from the start, the opportunities lagged behind the men. Vasconcellos hopes that the Olympics can help improve the lot of female skaters.

“I don’t care because skateboarding will always be skateboarding for me,” said Vasconcellos Mocker. “If anything, it’s good because as skaters we now have more competitions to participate in and opportunities to travel. It has totally changed snowboarding for women. Once snowboarding was at the Olympics, female snowboarders could really make a living from producing video games. The more girls who make a living from skateboarding, the more diversity there can be. “

The IOC’s interest in skateboarding, of course, is financial. Like an avid vampire, he scans the sporting landscape in search of popular and youthful sports capable of revitalizing his audience. It will be up to the athletes to use the creativity, daring and camaraderie for which skateboarding is known to resist from within and preserve what they can of the skateboarder’s subculture, lest sport and the art are not separated forever.

MacIntosh Ross, assistant professor, kinesiology, Western University

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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