TOKYO — Skaters made their historic debut on the Olympic stage early Sunday, with men's street heats kicking off the sport's four-day competition under Tokyo's blazing sun.
The inaugural event marks a turning point for skateboarding, which has its roots in youth street culture and has influenced everything from art to fashion.
The men's street competition on Sunday will be a star-studded affair, with who's who of international skating competing.
Jagger Eaton of the United States came first in the inaugural heat of the day, raking in 35.07 points ahead of France's Vincent Milou.
Eaton said it was "tough" to skate without the support of a packed crowd and used his Airpods to get into the zone. Most venues at the Tokyo Olympics will be without spectators as Japan tries to rein in an upsurge in COVID-19 cases.
"I always really get hyped by the crowd," he told Reuters on the sidelines of the event, noting he was listening to a rap song as he began his run to hype himself up.
Even without the crowds, Eaton said it felt significant to represent his country at the Olympics.
"It just feels different," he said.
In all, 20 skaters will compete in four heats before the event proceeds to the finals.
All eyes will be on Nyjah Huston of the United States and hometown favorite Yuto Horigome, who will skate on a concrete course designed with rails and benches emblazoned with the five Olympic rings.
By adding skateboarding to its roster, the International Olympic Committee hope it can tap into its legions of young fans worldwide, who have built skateboarding into a multi-billion dollar industry.
For skating giant Tony Hawk, the sport's inclusion into the Olympics is long overdue.
Tony Hawk, who is in town to act as a TV commentator, shredded the new waterfront bowl in Ariake this week and said he was surprised it took so long for the Olympics to embrace skateboarding.
"As a kid that was mostly lambasted for my interest in skateboarding, I never imagined it would be part of the Olympic Games," Hawk wrote below an Instagram video he posted earlier this week.
Skateboarding, though extremely popular in Japan, is still discouraged in most parks and it's uncommon to see skaters cruising down a street.
Just outside the skate park where the Olympics event is taking place on Sunday, a poster duck taped to the exterior white fence banned skateboarding for locals.
(Reporting by Mari Saito; Editing by Stephen Coates)