VISTA — When skateboarding was approved as an Olympic event six years ago, young athletes from around the world definitely took notice.
None more so than teenage girls in Japan, who fled to the concrete en masse and discovered they were pretty good at keeping a board under their feet.
The rapid ascension of Japanese girls who can not only ride a board on four small wheels, but complete difficult kickflips, rail grinds and box jumps was on display at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, and even more at the X Games the past few days.
Five of the six X Games medals handed out in the women’s skateboard street and park competitions went to athletes with Japanese citizenship. Four of those competitors weren’t even old enough to drive themselves to the California Training Center in Vista.
The success of the young Japanese skaters followed a similar pattern at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, when athletes from the host country won four of the six medals in the women’s street and park events.
“I think a lot more girls are into it,” said Sakura Yosozumi, who won an Olympic gold medal as a 19-year-old last summer in park. “I’m not talking about the ones who have already arrived. I get the impression there are more girls taking lessons in schools and at skate parks now.”
Momiji Nishiya, who turns 15 on Aug. 30, won the Women’s Skateboard Street competition on Sunday, adding to the Olympic gold medal she won in the event in Tokyo last summer, and the X Games silver she won as an 11-year-old in 2019.
Chloe Covell, a 12-year-old from Australia, delivered a huge final run to move from seventh to second, bumping 14-year-old Yumeka Oda of Japan into third.
Meanwhile, the two oldest and most experienced competitors in the field of nine, 29-year-old Leticia Bufoni and 23-year-old Pamela Rosa, both of Brazil, finished at the bottom of the pack.
The Women’s Skateboard Park event played out in similar fashion on Saturday.
Sky Brown, who has dual citizenship with Japan and England, won her second straight X Games gold medal in the event, while Japanese skaters also took second and third.
Brown, who turned 14 on July 7, joined fellow women’s skateboarder Brighton Zeuner of Encinitas as the only X Games athletes to win two gold medals before turning 15.
Yosozumi finished second, but also provided a reminder of how quickly things can go wrong above hard surfaces. She wiped out in the final seconds of her last run, laid motionless for a stretch, and was eventually taken away on a stretcher.
After briefly getting hospitalized, she returned to the event site later that afternoon.
Cocona Hiraki, who turns 14 on Aug. 26, took third in the park event, adding to the Olympic silver medal she won last summer.
Lizzie Armanto, a heavily sponsored 29-year-old from Santa Monica who won the X Games debut of Women’s Skateboard Park in 2013, finished eighth in the field of 10.
The second-oldest competitor in women’s park, 22-year-old Kisa Nakamura of Japan, finished last, but she was competing with a sore knee and swollen eye after falling during practice earlier in the week.
Nakamura was a major influence on the competition, however.
Skaters like Nishiya, Oda, Yosozumi and Hiraki watched Nakamura become the first Japanese skateboarder to win an X Games gold medal in park in 2016, and she was also the lone Japanese skateboarder in the event.
Nakamura’s victory also coincided with the International Olympic Committee’s decision to add skateboarding to the Tokyo Olympics.
As a result, a flood of Japanese girls became a lot more interested in the sport, even as access to skate parks in Japan continued to lack, and public opinion still largely considered skateboarding a nuisance.
Aori Nishimura came back with a win in Women’s Skateboard Street at the summer X Games in 2017.
Nishimura won silver in 2018 and Yosozumi took bronze in her X Games debut, but still, only three of the 18 competitors in the two events were from Japan.
The landscape has changed, however.
Four years later, 10 of the 19 competitors in women’s street and park were Japanese citizens.
“For anyone competing in action sports, the X Games is just as big as the Olympics,” Yosozumi said.
WOOLLEY TAKES SKATEBOARD PARK TITLE
Kieran Woolley of Australia closed the X Games with a victory in Skateboard Park at the CATF.
Woolley, 18, was making his second X Games appearance.
He made his debut at X Games Chiba 2022 in April and finished second.
Gavin Bottger from Oceanside finished second and Luiz Francisco of Brazil was third.
Woolley’s gold medal was the sixth for Australia at this year’s X Games, which tied with the US for the most.