TOKYO (AP) — The Olympic debut of skateboarding is quickly becoming an all-Japanese affair.
Making it three gold medals from three events, with just one more left to go, Sakura Yosozumi led a Japanese 1-2 in the women's park event on Wednesday, solidifying the host country’s dominance in the sport’s Olympic debut.
Kokona Hiraki took silver and, at 12 years old, became Japan’s youngest ever Olympic medalist. Sky Brown, already a skating superstar at 13, prevented a Japanese medal sweep by taking the bronze, making her the youngest person to win a medal for Britain at the Olympics.
Yosozumi won with a trick-filled first run that scored 60.09, making her the only competitor to break 60 points in the event at the Ariake Urban Sports Park.
That run immediately piled pressure on the seven other finalists to dislodge her. They all failed.
Before dropping into the huge skate bowl, Yosozumi asked her nervous mother to give her some space and steeled herself.
"I'm going to nail this,” the 2018 world champion said she told herself. “I'm going to show off my tricks.”
Wow, did she. Hiraki and Brown, too. Their acrobatic derring-do and the sisterly camaraderie between all the competitors underscored why organizers wanted the inclusive, youthful sport in the Olympics. Skaters celebrated each other's runs with hugs and consoled each other after falls, giving the event the feel of a skate among friends.
“Skateboarding is a great sport, a fun sport," Yosozumi said. "Please try.”
If possible in Japan. The irony of the sport's success is that Japanese skaters say they are short of parks and often unwelcome on the streets. Even around the Olympic skate park, signs forbid skating.
Japanese skaters also took both golds in the street events in the first week of the Tokyo Games. Yuto Horigome was the men's street champion and 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya won the women's street gold. Japan also got bronze in that event, from Funa Nakayama.
Nishiya's win had made her Japan's youngest ever medalist. But that title now goes Hiraki, who only turns 13 later this month.
In total, Japan has five of the nine skateboarding medals that have been handed out so far.
The last three will be distributed Thursday in the men's park competition.
Yosozumi's winning 45-second first run included two 540 spins off the walls of the bowl, rotating herself one and half times in the air before landing back on her board.
She only just made the second, crouching deep on her knees to make the trick stick. The 19-year-old skateboarder whose first name means cherry blossom in Japanese thrust her fists in the air in delight.
Her big score left Hiraki and Brown, skating right behind her, with a mountain to climb, forcing them to go for hard-to-land stunts to try to unseat her.
Brown attempted a super-tough trick that involved trying to spin the board on its axis underfoot as she powered off a steep back wall.
A message on the back of her helmet read: “Be brave, have fun, and do it ’cause you love it!!”
But twice she failed to pull off the move, called a kickflip Indy in skateboard parlance.
She nailed it on her third try and wrapped up that final run with a 540 of her own.
Brown clutched her head in hands, overcome by the emotion. But her score of 56.47 was only good enough for third.
Still, Brown was thrilled. She was hospitalized with a skull fracture and other broken bones after a fall on a large half-pipe ramp last year. With one side of her face bashed up and her left arm in a cast, making the Olympics had seemed unlikely.
“My parents were like ‘Uh, don’t skate anymore,'" she recalled.
Brown says that at the Paris Olympics three years from now, she wants not only to compete again in skateboarding but also in surfing, her other passion.
“I hope I inspire some girls," she said. “People feel like ‘I’m too young, I can’t do it.’ But honestly, if you believe in yourself you can do anything.”
Miina Yamada contributed. Follow John Leicester on Twitter at https://twitter.com/johnleicester
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