With golden Olympic debut, Japan's skateboarders hope for more parks

Tokyo 2020

By Mari Saito

TOKYO (Reuters) - Skateboarding's debut on the Olympic stage in Tokyo has spurred many skaters to ask one very simple question: will this finally mean more skate parks across Japan?

Japan has won three out of the four golds at this year's skateboarding competition, but many professional skateboarders have in the past left the country to pursue their careers.

Yuto Horigome, who won gold https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/skateboarding-horigome-wins-first-olympic-gold-skateboarding-2021-07-25 in the men's street skateboarding last month, left Japan after high school so he could train to be a pro skater. Similarly, street skater Aori Nishimura represented Japan in the Olympics but now lives and trains in Huntington Beach, California.

During Wednesday's press conference, Sakura Yosozumi, 19, said she was able to win a gold medal https://www.reuters.com/article/olympics-2020-skb/update-2-olympics-skateboarding-teens-and-tweens-from-japan-britain-shred-to-victory-idUSL8N2PB0OZ because a local business helped build her a private skate park near her home in Japan's Wakayama prefecture a year ago, which allowed her to train through the coronavirus pandemic.

"Wakayama doesn't have a skate park so I hope they can build one now," she told reporters.

The non-profit Japan Skate Park Association said the lack of skateboarding facilities remained a longstanding problem in Japan.

As of May, there were around 243 public skate parks across Japan, according to the Tokyo-based association, far fewer than in many other countries. In the United States, there were around 3,500 skate parks as of 2019, according to The Skatepark Project, a nonprofit set up by skateboarding legend Tony Hawk.

Satoru Kawasaki, who heads the Japanese association and also designs skate parks for municipalities, said the lack of public parks fed a negative spiral. Without parks, young skaters are forced onto busy streets and roads, prompting neighbours to call the police, which then pushes them to skate at night, leading to even more complaints.

"It makes kids do it in hiding, underground," said Kawasaki on Thursday.

At the same time, Japan's golden haul https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/skateboarding-nishiya-japan-takes-gold-womens-street-2021-07-26 at the Olympics is driving demand for boards and skateboarding classes.

Japanese newspapers have reported that sports shops across the country are seeing a rise in interest in the sport, which for years was seen as disruptive and dangerous.

For Kawasaki, that change in attitude couldn't come soon enough.

"If we could make it more open and visible, where there's a place to do it, it would get rid of the need to do it in hiding," he said.

(Additional reporting by Mayu Yoshida; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Skateboarding - Men
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Skateboarding - Men's Street - Final - Ariake Urban Sports Park - Tokyo, Japan - July 25, 2021. Yuto Horigome of Japan and Nyjah Huston of the United States during event. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Skateboarding - Men
FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Skateboarding - Men's Street - Medal Ceremony - Ariake Urban Sports Park - Tokyo, Japan - July 25, 2021. Silver medalist Kelvin Hoefler of Brazil, gold medalist Yuto Horigome of Japan and bronze medalist Jagger Eaton of the United States pose with their medals during medal ceremony. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Skateboarding - Women
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Skateboarding - Women's Park - Medal Ceremony - Ariake Urban Sports Park - Tokyo, Japan - August 4, 2021. Gold medalist Sakura Yosozumi of Japan celebrates on the podium next to bronze medalist, Sky Brown of Britain REUTERS/Mike Blake

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