TOKYO >> Yuto Horigome won the first ever skateboarding competition at the Olympic Games, taking gold in men’s street on Sunday in the city where he learned to skate as a kid and where his sport is often frowned upon.
The first skateboarding silver went to Brazilian Kelvin Hoefler, who used to sleep with his board when he first fell in love with skating as a young boy.
U.S. skater Jagger Eaton took bronze. He celebrated by whipping his phone out of his pocket and broadcasting live on Instagram.
Skateboarding’s Olympic debut delivered exactly what the Games’ organizers had hoped for: a high-adrenaline show of thrills and lots of spills from athletes plugged into younger audiences.
And for Japan, it delivered a new, clean-cut 22-year-old champion who will have a pretty convincing argument — a shiny gold medal — that he can wield the next time he is told that he can’t skate here or there.
Even around the Ariake Urban Sports Park in downtown Tokyo where the skaters competed, signs at the foot of residences say skateboarders aren’t welcome.
“Skateboarding is still a minor sport,” Horigome said. “I want to show how skateboarding is fun.”
One of skateboarding’s biggest stars, Nyjah Huston of the U.S., fell repeatedly while trying to land tricks and placed seventh in the eight-man final.
The Californian was among those who struggled with furnace-like conditions in the skatepark of rails, stairs, ledges and other street furniture that gives the event its name. Blazing sun softened rubber joints on the boards’ wheel axles, making them harder to control.
“Your feet starting burning up,” Huston said. “Your board like gets so hot that it kind of flexes more. That’s kind of why I fell on one of those tricks out there.”
While Huston melted down in the heat and pressure, Horigome was ice cool, executing the toughest tricks. His dad skated, and Horigome himself started as a 7-year-old, riding in a park 30 minutes drive from the future Olympic venue.
Horigome had been among the medal favorites after he beat Huston at the world championships in Rome in June.
On his highest scoring stunt, the Tokyo native flipped the board from under him on takeoff and slid it down a jagged rail on its nose, a trick called a nollie 270 noseslide.
That earned a high-scoring 9.5. Horigome was the only skater in the final to score nothing but nines in all of his tricks that counted.
The skaters reveled in the newfound prestige that the Games’ spotlight brings to their counterculture activity, born in freewheeling California and now increasingly mainstream.
“Hopefully, yes, after this people will be more accepting to skateboarding in cities like Tokyo,” Huston said. “We are not out there trying to vandalize or trespass, or the way a lot of people see it. We are just out there doing our jobs, to be honest, and having an awesome time.”