Reinventing the Wheels: Skateboarding rides into 2020 Olympic Games amid mixed reactions from skaters

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International Olympic Committee member Anita DeFrantz recently visited ASU to offer her take on the contention surrounding the addition of skateboarding as an official Olympic sport in the 2020 games.

When asked about whether skateboarding will fit into the clean-cut conventions of the Olympic Games, DeFrantz quipped during the Q&A: “Yeah, it fits as long as you come to the games not doped, in all senses of the word,” which garnered a few giggles from the audience when she spoke at the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on January 29.

“Doping” at the Olympic Games usually refers to banned performance-enhancing drugs, but some students seem to think she was referring to the stereotype of skateboarders being drug users.  

Skateboarders have traditionally had a bad reputation, including the conception of criminal activity, disrespect for authority and destruction of property.

But that image is changing, skateboarders say, and some don’t necessarily like it.

“Skateboarding was considered a crime,” says Justin Yap, 22, ASU Digital Culture and Music major, who has been skating for 15 years. “But now that it has come into the public light via the Olympics, true skaters see this as an invasion in their culture. They are concerned that skateboarding will be too commercial and that the real, dirty, grimy, yet beautiful art of street skating will die out.”

International Olympic Committee member Anita DeFrantz (right) talks at ASU. Photo by Sarah Donahue

Rahshad “Peaches” Gentle, manager of Cowtown Skateboards in Tempe, says, “It’s getting recognition, but at the same time it’s not really what we all got into skating for.”

Gentle says skateboarding is more about the freedom and the art of expressing yourself than seeing who’s the best.

“It’s just weird that we have to compete for a gold medal for something that we do for fun, you know?” Gentle says.

Some skateboarders are completely against it.

“I don’t think skateboarding belongs in the 2020 Olympics,” says Brandon Lin, 19, ASU Visual Communication and Graphic Design major, who has been skating for ten years. “All the sports in the Olympic Games are very competitive and all the athletes are controlled by their coach. Skateboarding is not about being competitive; it’s about having fun and doing what you love.”

Female skateboarders will be represented in the Olympic Games and some are excited to see the outcome.

“I am really excited to see competitive skateboarding in the 2020 Olympics,” says Chloe Janick, 19, who works at Zumiez and has been skating for 10 months. “I personally look at skating as a sport, and there are definitely people who can take it to the next level. I’m sure there will be a lot of positive outcomes from it.”

According to the “State of the Skateboard Industry” presentation by Glenn Brumage, executive director of Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, skateboarding has more than 11 million participants and is a $4.8 billion market.

“There’s not enough people from other countries good enough for it to be in the Olympics,” says Luis Parra, 19, studying at the ASU W.P. Carey School of Business, who has been skating for four years.

Some top-ranked skateboarders from other countries include Nelson Garza from Mexico, Luan Oliveira from Brazil, Ivan Federico from Italy and Yuto Horigome from Japan. Nyjah Huston and Paul Rodriguez are top-ranked skateboarders from the U.S.

Michael Sturdivant does a frontside rock n’ roll at Jack Malmgren Skate Park in Sedona. Photo by Sarah Donahue

In the Olympic Games, there will be two disciplines: park and street. The park competition will have a dome and curves and the street portion will have rails, stairs and curbs. Judges will consider overall routine as well as height, speed, originality and style.

DeFrantz also talked about how the same question of “Will this fit in?” was raised when bringing snowboarding into the Olympic Games, affirming there were no problems with “counterculture” sports.

DeFrantz, an Olympic rower, is credited for making major strides for gender equality in the Olympic Games. She spoke on what it was like to be one of the many athletes whose Moscow 1980 Olympic Games experience was taken away because of the U.S. boycott of those games. Her book, My Olympic Life, chronicles her experience and was released in September.

Immediately after her speech at ASU, DeFrantz left for South Korea to make final plans for the Winter Olympic Games, which began February 9 and continue until February 25.

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