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Why don't skateboarders wear helmets and other Olympic questions - answered!

The street sport has come a long way to the Olympics in Tokyo.

Skateboarding made its debut at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics with the first ever street skateboarding competition, bringing home a bronze for Jagger Eaton of Team USA.

If, when you think of skateboarding, you envision Marty McFlay from "Back to the Future" gliding around town on his basic board, it’s time for a wake-up call. This year, the high-flying sport adds some edge and pizzaz to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, taking place in 2021.

To help us make sense of everything skateboarding, we talked to Josh Friedberg, the CEO of USA Skateboarding.

Why don’t skateboarders wear helmets?

Good question. Parents drill it into kids’ heads that you always clip on a helmet when riding a scooter or a skateboard or, for that matter, anything on wheels. That doesn't apply to elite athletes, however. Protective headgear is only mandated for competitors under the age of 18; if athletes under the age of 18 refuse to wear helmets, they’ll be disqualified. It’s worth noting that Japanese skateboarding sensation Momiji Nishiya, who won gold at age 13 in the women’s street competition, did wear a helmet.

Many pros dislike the weight of a helmet and find it unnecessary after years of practicing. Plus, it pretty much announces that you're a rookie.

Who are the skateboarders to watch at the Olympics?

A favorite heading into the games was Nyjah Huston, who faltered in the street event. Huston, after Tony Hawk, is the most famous street skater on the planet and is highest paid skateboarder in the world.

In park skating, watch for Heimana Reynolds, who "does double duty as a surfer and does tricks like the tre flip, the kickflip and the padless 540 with panache and ease," says Friedberg.

“We expect good things from our entire Olympic delegation,” predicts Friedberg.

Internationally, several young athletes are making their appearance in the sport, including Sky Brown, a 13-year-old competing for Great Britain. Two 13-year-olds took gold and silver in the women's street skateboarding over the weekend.

Why is skateboarding an Olympic sport?

You could argue that the International Olympic Committee recognized the awesome athleticism of the sport. Or, you could make the case that the IOC wanted to attract a younger audience. Either way, skateboarding is here to stay.

“The IOC and Tokyo 2020 have recognized the inherent value of bringing a culture-based sport with global youth appeal into their mix. And it's one of the most physically challenging of all sports – skateboarders at the Olympic-level are undeniably elite athletes,” says Friedberg.

How did skateboarding become an Olympic sport?

“It was a long and winding road, that mainly consisted of waiting until the IOC understood enough about skateboarding to make sure that the culture that created it would be fairly represented in the Olympic movement,” says says Friedberg.

What type of skateboarding is in the Olympics?

You’ll see two two disciplines of skating: Street and park, which include both men's and women's events.

Park skateboarders compete in something that looks like a fishbowl or swimming pool, launching themselves off the walls and performing mind-boggling tricks reviewed by five judges. Meanwhile, street skating takes place on a course that resembles, wait for it, a street, with handrails, curbs, benches, walls, and slopes. Each skater has a 45-second run and five tricks.

What should we look for at Olympic skateboarding at Tokyo 2020?

“Look for talented skateboarding athletes from all over the world to change your preconceptions of who skateboards and what skateboarders look like. Also, the story of Olympic skateboarding will be about the incredible progression of female skateboarding globally,” says Friedberg.