In a press conference held on Go Skateboarding Day, appropriately enough, USA Skateboarding confirmed its Street team roster for the Tokyo Olympics, featuring Nyjah Huston, Jake Ilardi, Jagger Eaton, Mariah Duran, Alexis Sablone, and Alana Smith. Street Skateboarding is among the first events in the Tokyo Olympics, July 24 and 25, following the Opening Ceremony on July 23.
Huston heads into the Olympics ranked #1 in the World Skate standings, the far and away favorite for gold, but told DewTour.com he’s trying to stay humble, especially with international skaters like Japan’s Yuto Horigome and Sora Shirai, Brazil’s Kelvin Hoefler, Portugal’s Gustavo Ribeiro, and France’s Aurelien Giraud always bringing the challenge: those skaters round out the top-six in the World Skate rankings, followed by Americans Jake Ilardi and Jagger Eaton at #7 and #8.
“I’m proud of myself to even still be able to win out here, to be honest,” Huston says. “I’ve been skating these contests for about 15 years now, and winning them for about 10 or 11, so it’s a good feeling to still be out here competing with these guys. It feels like it’s been a lifetime! The young guys, they’ve got the fresh legs, and they’re good! I’m out there trying to keep up.”
While Huston says he’s obviously hyped for the Olympics, he’s trying to downplay the size of the target on his back. He doesn’t win all the time, after all: the week after his Dew Tour win, Yuto Horigome bested him at the World Skate World Championships in Rome, a preview of the battle ahead on Horigome’s home turf in Tokyo.
“I’m just taking it as it goes, trying to think of it as another contest,” Huston says. “I’m always hard on myself with skating and competing and performing well, but I try not to put as much pressure on myself these days because I have been out here for a while, and all these guys are so good. Anyone can win these contests, so you can never go out there and expect too much.”
Jake Ilardi, who hails from Sarasota, Florida, took the opportunity at Monday’s press conference to give shoutouts to his twin brother Nate (now his personal filmer) and their grandmother, Mary Paulette Moulton, who bought them both their first skateboards when they were four years old. He says he has high hopes that skateboarding’s new Olympic platform will help get new skateparks built in places like Sarasota and around the world. “It’s going to open up skateboarding for everyone,” Ilardi says. “I can’t wait to see all the new skaters and the new places to skate.”
Jagger Eaton originally hoped to compete in both Park and Street in the Olympics but decided in 2021 to focus on Park instead of going for both. He won the USA Skateboarding Nationals in the Park contest in May but fell short of making the three-person cut for the trip to Tokyo with his disappointing finish at Dew Tour. In the airport on his way out of Des Moines, he’d already hatched a new plan: fly to Rome to compete in the Street World Championships after all: his 4th place finish there sealed the deal, earning him enough Olympic quota points to make the USA team for Tokyo.
“I grew up in an environment where competitive sports was always kind of put on a pedestal,” Eaton said at Monday’s press conference. “Just seeing the progression of all these athletes up here – some of my best friends are up on this stage – and seeing where skateboarding’s at now, you honestly can’t even comprehend it… there’s no way any of us could have even come close to this thought. I’m just very blessed to be part of this team. The progression of all these skateboarders on here is instrumental to where skateboarding is at now.”
Mariah Duran leads the charge for USA Skateboarding as the top-ranked American and #7 overall in the World Skate rankings for Women’s Street. She had an emotional moment in Monday’s press conference, pointing to her brothers Elijah and Zeke in the crowd.
“They’re the reason why I’m the skater I am today: They keep me grounded, they’re always at the contests… it’s been a long journey, and to have family by my side is amazing,” she said.
Though the Coronavirus pandemic delayed the Tokyo Olympics by one year and forced the cancellation of every other contest on the calendar in 2020, Duran says the down year gave her some helpful perspective.
“It was pretty crazy, but I feel like we all kind of needed it, just to reflect on why we were doing this in the first place… for me personally, it was like a mental break, and I fell back in love with skateboarding. When I was like ten years old, when I first picked it up, I wasn’t skating in the front yard prepping for the Olympics. I was skating because I loved doing it. I feel like it was really cool to have that moment and to now just be so connected heading into Tokyo.”
Alexis Sablone, the oldest in the USA Skateboarding contingent at 34, says her love of skateboarding has almost nothing at all to do with competition and says she’s surprised to be heading to the Olympics.
“I never ever would have pictured this,” Sablone says. “In so many ways, skateboarding and competition don’t go together because skateboarding is all about freedom, and no rules, and all this stuff, but here we are. I think there’s this kind of inherent tension there, but there’s also something that pushes me and has pushed me and pushes us. To get good at skateboarding is so much about trying something and failing and trying and trying and trying. So, what’s the limit to that? You want to keep pushing and see what you’re capable of.”
Alana Smith rounds the USA Skateboarding contingent, hanging on to the #3 spot among Americans and #19 overall in the World Skate rankings, despite not skating at Dew Tour Des Moines or the World Skate World Championships in Rome, on the strength of 2019 results including a 3rd place finish at Street League Los Angeles.
Smith, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, says they believe making the cut for USA Skateboarding, and the Olympics serves as a reminder of the supportive community skateboarding has been throughout what has been a difficult personal journey from a tumultuous childhood to a recent period of identity growth, reinforced by continued success in skateboarding.
“Skateboarding is my family: skateboarding has always meant so much to me and has always shown me and given me a safe place to be myself and be the human I am,” Smith says. Skateboarding is such an individual sport, and it really gives you the space to be able to be yourself and grow as a human and be supported throughout the entire way.”
NBC’s broadcast of Men’s Street Qualification begins on Saturday, July 24 at 5pm PDT, followed by the Final at 8:30pm PDT. Women’s Street Qualification begins Sunday July 25 at 5pm PDT, followed by the Final at 8:30pm PDT. For the full schedule of Olympic Skateboarding events, visit www.nbcolympics.com/schedule/sport/skateboarding