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Micky Papa of Team Canada practises on a skateboard street course in Tokyo, July 21.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As he readies for his sport’s Olympic debut this weekend in Tokyo, Micky Papa can’t help but think about all those times he had to skateboard in an underground parking garage to stay warm because his family couldn’t afford to pay the heating bills.

Security guards often shooed him out of the garage or away from the curbs and handrails in front of local businesses where he practised his tricks. Sometimes an empathetic adult, such as the mayor of Coquitlam, B.C., back then, would relent – “He’s okay, let the kid skate.” But mostly Papa remembers feeling that skateboarders were unwelcome.

It’s the opposite these days, especially in Tokyo. Papa is meeting people from around the world in the athletes village, wearing the Canadian flag on his chest, training on a freshly built, modern skate park and about to become one of the first skateboarders to compete at an Olympics.

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“It’s so different now in the level of respect we get – we’re athletes, not only skaters,” said the 30-year-old, his white Team Canada shirt soaked in sweat after a training session Friday under the sun in 33 C heat at the Ariake Urban Skate Park. “We’ve also been skating around outside in the village, near the Olympic rings and the other athletes are super-hyped. They’re so curious about us.”

Papa falls during his training session.

Gregory Bull/The Associated Press

Skateboarding is one of four new sports – the others being karate, sport climbing and surfing – added to the Olympic program in Tokyo, partly for their popularity in Japanese culture but also as an attempt to attract younger audiences and capitalize on the trend of urbanizing sport.

“We want to take sport to the youth,” said IOC president Thomas Bach when it was added in late 2016. “With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us. We have to go to them.”

Papa is one of three skateboarders on the Canadian Olympic team. He and 27-year-old Matt Berger from Kamloops will compete on Sunday in the street event, demonstrating tricks on a large course with handrails, banks and ledges. Andy Anderson, 25, from White Rock, B.C., is the lone Canadian who qualified for the park event, which takes place at the other end of the skate park later in the Games and features high-flying tricks in a sunken bowl with steep sides.

Canada did not qualify any female skateboarders, but Montreal’s Annie Guglia, who barely missed the cut, is heading to Tokyo as a first alternate in the women’s street event. Vancouver’s Ryan Decenzo is the first alternate for men’s street.

There are 80 Olympic skateboarders in total – 20 men and 20 women per discipline. The judges will score them on the difficulty and execution of their tricks. Unlike in other major skateboarding competitions, such as the Dew Tour or the X Games, they will compete in national team uniforms in a sport that typically highlights individual fashion tastes. Since all continents must be represented at the Olympics, countries were capped at three skaters for each discipline, so some top competitors from skateboarding hotbeds such as the United States, Brazil and Japan got left at home.

The stands will be empty, but the skateboarding events promise a festive atmosphere, with music pumping during competition.

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Craig McMorris of Regina, shown at 2013's FIS Snowboard World Championship in Stoneham, Que., will tell stories about skateboarding on CBC's digital platforms to help explain the sport to Canadians.

The Canadian Press

Craig McMorris will help explain the sport to Canadian audiences by telling stories about skateboarding, among other sports in Tokyo, on CBC’s digital platforms. The former professional snowboarder from Regina and older brother of two-time Olympic snowboard bronze medalist Mark McMorris, has become well-known for his reality-TV shows and his live commentary from snowboarding and skateboarding events.

McMorris said the vibe at the Olympics feels “a little more sterile and manicured” than other big skateboarding events, but he believes a medal at the Games will be highly valued.

“Absolutely it will, because there is that weight of this being the first Olympics,” he said. “I’m a huge fan of skateboarding. I’m going to love watching it. It was so fun to watch training in person this week. Being there standing on the concrete felt like, ‘Wow, this is special.’”

Just as in golf, McMorris says, the most successful skateboarders at the Olympics will be the most consistent ones.

Hotly anticipated competitors include American street skateboarder Nyjah Huston – who boasts 4.7 million followers on Instagram – and Japan’s Yuto Horigome. The are some teenage phenoms on the women’s side: Rayssa Leal of Brazil, Japan’s Momiji Nishiya and Sky Brown of Britain, all just 13.

Unlike many athletes in Tokyo, Canada’s Berger never dreamed of being an Olympian as a kid because the opportunity simply wasn’t there for his favourite pastime. He wanted to be a pro skateboarder, appear in films – maybe have his own pro board on the market. He and Papa spend most of their time training in California. There are lots of private training facilities, too, but most elite skateboarders train often in public places with people of all ages around.

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“I tried a lot of different sports as a kid and tried skateboarding in 2000, and as soon as I stepped on a board it became my obsession,” said Berger, who is ranked No. 9 in the men’s world street rankings, ahead of Papa at No. 21. “It was restriction-free creativity. I was able to do what I wanted and I didn’t have to worry about doing drills. It was all just self-driven.”

He said skateboarding in a Canadian Olympic uniform is certainly novel.

“I’m completely honoured to be here, plain and simple,” he said. “It’s not hard to get used to. I’m honoured to wear it, excited to put it on and be part of this.”

Canadian team coach Adam Higgins hopes the sport’s place at the Olympics encourages kids back in Canada to try it.

“It’s such a change in where skateboarding has gone from where it was when we were kids,” Higgins said. “Their dedication to the sport and their passion can’t be looked down upon. Seeing it on this stage is mind-blowing. The opportunity to do core street skateboarding isn’t going away, but the acceptance of the sport is changing and will help welcome in more skateboarders.”


How is Olympic skateboarding played?

SCHEDULE

Qualification

Medal

JULY

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

AUGUST

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Making its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, Skateboarding is an essential part of street culture. Athletes will demonstrate their skills in a celebratory, festival-like atmosphere. They are free to select which parts of the course to tackle and which tricks to perform. Points are awarded for overall level of difficulty and originality.

Athletes ride skateboards to perform tricks which include jumps (ollies), flips and mid-air spins. Music is an important accompaniment and contributes to a vibrant and youth-focused atmosphere. Skaters are free to select which parts of the course to tackle and which tricks to perform.

Safety

gear

Athlete’s

choice

Park tricks

Consist of

airs, lip

tricks and

inverts

Invert or

handplant

gives the thrill

of being

upside

down

Helmet

Compulsory for

athletes under

the age of 18

Lip of concrete bowl

70–80

cm

Skateboard

Nose and tail have

same shape and can

be easily switched

PARK SKATEBOARDING

MEN + WOMEN

Held in a hollowed-out concrete bowl featuring complicated curves that rise steeply and ramps of various heights.

Three 40-50 second runs in each round

Only the best run counts

A fall renders the run null and void

STREET SKATEBOARDING

MEN + WOMEN

Held on a street-like course that replicates urban architecture, featuring inclines, stairs, curbs, park benches and handrails.

Two 45-second runs

Five best tricks

Four best scores are aggregated for final score

SKILLS OR TRICKS –

ATHLETES PERFORM INDIVIDUALLY

OLLIE

Allows skaters to hop over obstacles

GRIND

Truck slides along an edge

FLIP

Skateboard rotates around its vertical axis

SOURCE: REUTERS

SCHEDULE

Qualification

Medal

JULY

AUGUST

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Making its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, Skateboarding is an essential part of street culture. Athletes will demonstrate their skills in a celebratory, festival-like atmosphere. They are free to select which parts of the course to tackle and which tricks to perform. Points are awarded for overall level of difficulty and originality.

Athletes ride skateboards to perform tricks which include jumps (ollies), flips and mid-air spins. Music is an important accompaniment and contributes to a vibrant and youth-focused atmosphere. Skaters are free to select which parts of the course to tackle and which tricks to perform.

Safety

gear

Athlete’s

choice

Park tricks

Consist of

airs, lip

tricks and

inverts

Invert or

handplant

gives the thrill

of being

upside

down

Helmet

Compulsory for

athletes under

the age of 18

Lip of concrete bowl

70–80

cm

Skateboard

Nose and tail have

same shape and can

be easily switched

PARK SKATEBOARDING

MEN + WOMEN

Held in a hollowed-out concrete bowl featuring complicated curves that rise steeply and ramps of various heights.

Three 40-50 second runs in each round

Only the best run counts

A fall renders the run null and void

STREET SKATEBOARDING

MEN + WOMEN

Held on a street-like course that replicates urban architecture, featuring inclines, stairs, curbs, park benches and handrails.

Two 45-second runs

Five best tricks

Four best scores are aggregated for final score

SKILLS OR TRICKS – ATHLETES PERFORM INDIVIDUALLY

OLLIE

Allows skaters to hop over obstacles

GRIND

Truck slides along an edge

FLIP

Skateboard rotates around its vertical axis

SOURCE: REUTERS

JULY

AUGUST

SCHEDULE

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Qualification

Medal

Making its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, Skateboarding is an essential part of street culture. Athletes will demonstrate their skills in a celebratory, festival-like atmosphere. They are free to select which parts of the course to tackle and which tricks to perform. Points are awarded for overall level of difficulty and originality.

Athletes ride skateboards to perform tricks which include jumps (ollies), flips and mid-air spins. Music is an important accompaniment and contributes to a vibrant and youth-focused atmosphere. Skaters are free to select which parts of the course to tackle and which tricks to perform.

Safety gear

Athlete’s

choice

Park tricks

Consist of airs, lip

tricks and inverts

Invert or

handplant

gives the thrill

of being

upside

down

Helmet

Compulsory for

athletes under

the age of 18

Lip of concrete bowl

70–80

cm

Skateboard

Nose and tail have

same shape and can

be easily switched

PARK SKATEBOARDING

MEN + WOMEN

STREET SKATEBOARDING

MEN + WOMEN

Held in a hollowed-out concrete bowl featuring complicated curves that rise steeply and ramps of various heights.

Held on a street-like course that replicates urban architecture, featuring inclines, stairs, curbs, park benches and handrails.

Three 40-50 second runs in each round

Only the best run counts

A fall renders the run null and void

Two 45-second runs

Five best tricks

Four best scores are aggregated for final score

SKILLS OR TRICKS – ATHLETES PERFORM INDIVIDUALLY

OLLIE

GRIND

FLIP

Allows skaters to hop

over obstacles

Truck slides

along an edge

Skateboard rotates around

its vertical axis

SOURCE: REUTERS

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