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At 13, skateboarder is Japan’s youngest gold medalist

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / JULY 26
                                Teen Momiji Nishiya was the top competitor in the women’s street skateboarding finals at the Olympics in Tokyo. She later wore the gold medal — and her trademark big smile, above.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS / JULY 26

    Teen Momiji Nishiya was the top competitor in the women’s street skateboarding finals at the Olympics in Tokyo. She later wore the gold medal — and her trademark big smile, above.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / JULY 26
                                Teen Momiji Nishiya was the top competitor in the women’s street skateboarding finals at the Olympics in Tokyo,above.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS / JULY 26

    Teen Momiji Nishiya was the top competitor in the women’s street skateboarding finals at the Olympics in Tokyo,above.

TOKYO >> Though Momiji Nishiya was skateboarding on the world’s biggest stage on July 26, the 13-year-old looked as if she was just playing in a park. Through her runs and tricks at the Olympic final of the women’s street event, joyful smiles beamed from her face.

Having fun was the path to gold for Nishiya, Japan’s youngest-ever gold medalist.

“I’m so happy,” Nishiya said. “I want to be a skateboarder everyone in the world knows.”

Japan’s early dominance in skateboarding, making its debut as an Olympic sport at Tokyo 2020, extended to the bronze as Funa Nakayama, 16, placed third. On July 25, Yuto Horigome, 22, became the sport’s first Olympic champion by winning gold in the men’s street competition.

The women’s podium was filled with teen spirit as Brazil’s Rayssa Leal, also 13, took silver.

In street competition, skateboarders perform on a course resembling an urban terrain with elements such as stairs, handrails, benches and walls. Competitors make two runs over the course, then perform five tricks. All seven are scored, with the top four counting toward the total.

Nishiya didn’t score any points in her first two tricks because she fell when landing. But she showed perseverance, with two of her last three tricks scoring over 4.00.

“At first I thought there’s no chance to win, but I received encouragement from people around me,” Nishiya said. “So I shifted my focus and decided not to give up through the end.”

Born in Osaka prefecture, she has made steady progress in recent years, finishing second at X Games Minneapolis 2019 and in the 2021 world championships in Rome last month.

Nishiya seemed to have nerves of steel, saying the pressure of competing in the Olympics in her home country was “not that different from other competitions.”

From the preliminary round through the final, her smile was a constant presence.

“People watching me were saying ‘wow,’ and that made me happy,” Nishiya said, “so I was smiling.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story and headline said a 13-year-old skateboarder was Japan’s youngest Olympic medalist.
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