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Annie Guglia of Canada smiles after the first heat in the women's street skateboarding final at the Tokyo Olympics.

Ben Curtis/The Associated Press

Annie Guglia stepped on her skateboard Monday gripped by the kind of jet lag that makes a person fear for their own safety. She slipped on a helmet before the competition, worried fatigue would trip her into a dangerous mistake in her sudden and unexpected turn as an Olympian. She had slept a total of 12 hours in the previous four days and didn’t “want to risk getting hurt,” she said. After all, she only found out she would compete on Friday, after an injury forced out a South African competitor.

And yet, before Guglia dropped in for her first run, she raised her arms in a little dance.

“Skateboarding has been my passion for 20 years. So I just wanted to showcase how much fun I’m having on my board,” Guglia said. The stumbles in the runs that followed did not mark the pinnacle of her skill. Her score was the second-lowest in her preliminary and she didn’t advance to the final.

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Tokyo Olympics: Canadian judoka Jessica Klimkait wins bronze medal

It was an achievement nonetheless, not least for a sport that was once an outlier – for women, in particular – but which has now become an unlikely agent for Olympic change, in part because of years of effort by Guglia.

When Guglia, 30, first tried her younger brother’s skateboard nearly two decades ago, women’s skateboarding did not exist. The first competition she entered two years later had no separate category for women. Later, she won her first women’s competition because she was the only entrant. At early World Cup competitions, men could win $15,000. Women, $900. Guglia remembers thinking, “I don’t know what I want to do in life, but I want to make more than $900 a year.”

“And now with the Olympics, it’s like equality. It’s amazing. We’ve come a long way with skateboarding.”

Skateboarding’s Olympic debut arrived not least because organizers and advertisers covet the younger Games audience they think it can help them fetch.

But the introduction of the women’s event in particular marks a cultural shift – not merely from the staid world of traditional Olympic disciplines, but also toward the kind of culturally inclusive environment organizers have said they want. If the advent of skateboarding was pioneering for Olympics athletics, the addition of women’s skateboarding in particular suggested the possibility of broader change at the Games.

Among the 20 women’s street skateboarders, Guglia, Margielyn Didal, Alexis Sablone and Alana Smith all publicly identify as LGBTQ. They form part of an Olympics with 168 athletes who identify as LGBTQ, more than three times the number at the last Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, according to reporting by Outsports.

“I don’t think there is more gay people. I think now they feel more safe talking about it and being out,” Guglia said.

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From her home in Montreal, Guglia has been described as an ambassador and pioneer for LGBTQ athletes and her sport. She is a personal friend of nearly every one of the world’s best female skateboarders, going on road trips with Leticia Bufoni before the Brazilian – an Olympic favourite who did not make the final – could speak English. Guglia arranged a California Airbnb for other skateboarders to make the 2016 film Quit Your Day Job, the first of its kind in a decade. Some of those in the film are now Olympians.

Guglia wrote a master’s thesis analyzing the discourse of skateboard industry managers in North America, and has been nudged to become the president of Skateboard Canada by that position’s current occupant, Ben Stoddard.

The sport, he said, has entered a new moment of flourishing. Interest first kindled by the Olympics has been further inflamed by the pandemic, which drove people to find new forms of individual recreation. For much of last year, skateboard manufacturers struggled to meet demand, with shortages of wood, urethane and other components. “You couldn’t buy a set of wheels in Canada for about eight months last year,” Stoddard said.

City planners have taken notice, too. In the Calgary region alone, 10 skate parks are under construction this year. Across the world, more women are stepping on boards. Men are no longer the sole presence at most skateparks, a dramatic change from when Guglia started out.

She skated for two years before meeting another woman on a board. Australia’s Hayley Wilson, 19, felt so alone when she began that “I thought I was the only girl skater,” she said. “Now there’s thousands of them out there shredding.”

Guglia competes during the Women's Street Prelims Heat 1 on day three of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Urban Sports Park on July 26.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images AsiaPac

In the street skateboarding final, the average age of the men was 23. For women, it was 19 – with two of the competitors just 13, Japan’s Momiji Nishiya and Brazil’s Rayssa Leal. It was those 13-year-olds – young enough that they were given an exemption from a Games ban on family members and allowed parental accompaniment – who won gold and silver. Bronze went to Japan’s Funa Nakayama, 16.

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“Now I can convince all my friends to skateboard everywhere with me,” said Leal. A Brazilian journalist pointed out that soccer great Pele did not score his first World Cup goal until the age of 17.

Olympics champions that have barely entered their teens stand to push the sport “way further than my generation” in years to come, “and I think that’s a really good thing,” Guglia said.

For now, the gap between men and women remains considerable. Judged by the same criteria, the best women’s trick at the Olympics scored five out of 10. Several men scored in the nines. Two Japanese women stood on the podium, but their home country remains hostile territory for skateboarding, with few skateparks and police often intent on shooing skaters away.

Still, women’s skateboarding at the Olympics provided a stage for a sport that is itself changing fast, even as it brings change to the world of elite sport where it now belongs.

On Monday, Canadian skateboarder Matt Berger sat in the stands, watching the top women land tricks on the most difficult obstacles of the course on which he competed the previous day.

“This event,” he said, “is mind-blowing.”

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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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