Skateboarders excited to see sport on Olympic stage
LONDON, ONT. -- When she learned skateboarding would be in the 2021 Summer Olympic Games, Sophie Grant was taken aback.
"We are used to getting kicked out of places and people calling the cops on us and now we are going to be a real Olympic sport," says Grant, a London, Ont. skateboarder who was one of 12 members named to Canada's National Skateboarding Team.
It's a story familiar to many who have been skateboarding for decades.
"Before the last 10 years skateboarding wasn't looked at kindly by the majority of population," says Christopher Lake of the London Skateboard Co-op, Grant's first-ever sponsor.
"Then I went to a world-class event with Sophie in London, England. There were different teams with jumpsuits that had their country on their backs, and skateboarding on the front. That was a dream come true."
Skateboarding will join more obscure sports like surfing and sport climbing in this summer's Olympics. In 2024 breakdancing will be added.
At Western University's International Centre for Olympic Studies (ICOS), Director Angela Schneider is a former Canadian rower who won a silver medal at the 1984 games in Los Angeles, Calif.
"As an Olympian I'd be dishonest if I didn't tell you when I went to the Olympics and saw pistol shooting and thought, "What is that doing here?'" says Schneider.
"I had a view in my mind of what an Olympic sport was, and I thought it was about this intense physicality."
However, since taking over in her role at ICOS, her perspective has changed.
"I'm looking at this from a world perspective, and geopolitical perspective and environmental trends, and keeping youth interested. I can understand the [International Olympic Committee's] decision. They passed it unanimously by the way. I think there is an element that is about the entertainment side and tapping into the youth culture."
There will be two disciplines at the Tokyo Olympics. 'Park,' which Grant says is 'like skating in a pool,' and 'Street,' which is grinding rails and jumping.
"I'm in Street so I'll be grinding down rails, ledges, boxes and jumping down stairs," says Grant.
Grant is currently in San Diego, Calif. staying at a house with a team of skateboarders sponsored by 'Zero Skateboards.'
She was invited by Australian Dave Burman and is working to get her athlete Visa.
A Visa would allow her to remain in the U.S. for five years, but she's only staying temporarily before returning to Southwestern Ontario in June.
The 21-year-old skater has rapidly risen to the pinnacle of her sport having first picked up a board just five years ago.
"I remember I was at high school (Parkside Collegiate in St. Thomas, Ont.) and people were skating on this little pathway," says Grant.
"They taught me to kick flip and after that my friend Shawn said go home, get a board and start skating. Since then I've just never stopped learning."
A few years later she took a chance by going to California with no contacts, and no place to stay. When she landed her first sponsor she knew it was something she could pursue.
Having been on a board for just five years she'll be a major underdog, competing against seasoned professional skateboarders in Tokyo, Japan. She says on any given day anyone can land their individual tricks and finish on top.
In the meantime she's working hard, and still in awe that her sport is now in the Olympics. She thinks it will bring major worldwide exposure.
"I've already noticed more people skating," says Grant.
"I feel like it's already blowing up. I've heard it goes in phases but right now it's a definite high. I had someone 'Facetiming' me telling me saying, 'I got a skateboard and I'm learning a trick right now.' It's so cool, a lot of people are starting to skate.
Lake is excited to watch Grant skate, but is equally looking forward to the exposure this will give women in the sport.
"The playing field will be levelled in the Olympics, which is a change from the world-class events," says Lake, from his downtown London, Ont. shop.
"The industry is starting to embrace them. It'll only go up from here. The exposure to rest of the world will hopefully encourage other countries to invest in skateboard parks accessible for skateboarders to go somewhere to get a gold medal...This is a launching pad to send us a long way."
Grant is in the process of putting together a four-minute long video she calls a 'Part,' which shows off her skills. She hopes it will land her a major sponsor and photos in magazines.
"I want to skate my whole life or until my bones don't let me," says Grant.
"I seriously think this is my career".