USA Olympic Skateboarding Team Packed With San Diego Faces

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The 12 members of the first U.S. Olympic skateboarding team -- half of them with deep San Diego ties -- stepped on their boards on Monday and skated through a corridor of tall American flags in a joyful pack, heading toward an outdoor stage to meet the world together.

It was an appropriate introduction for a bunch of world-class skaters who will represent the best aspects of this American-born sport in Tokyo: No leaders, no followers — and plenty of love and support for the whole crew.

“I don’t know if any of us imagined we would ever be up here getting ready to skate in the Olympics,” said Nyjah Huston, the five-time world champion and California native recognized as the highest-paid skater in the sport’s history. “But we’ve all been working for this from a young age, even before it was possible.

The 12 U.S. Olympians range from smiling teenagers to accomplished 30-somethings of different races, sexual orientations and gender identifications. Six of them -- SIX! -- grew up in San Diego County or moved here (many in North County, where a guy name Tony Hawk hails from) to perfect their craft,

In fact, the entire U.S. Women's Park team -- Bryce Wettstein, Brighton Zeuner and Jordyn Barratt -- calls San Diego County home. On the men's side, they're joined by Heimana Reynolds and Cory Juneau, who are both on the Men's Park team, as well as Jagger Eaton, a member of the Men's Street team.

With exactly 6 months until the Tokyo Olympics, NBC 7 News Today anchor Steven Luke is checking in on a pair of local Olympic hopefuls so see if they still have their sights set on Tokyo. He also speaks with them about and how they’ve been coping — and practicing — during the pandemic.

They’ve all competed at their sport’s highest level, and they're all eager to perform when competition gets underway July 25 at Ariake Urban Sports Park.

Huston and Jake Ilardi round out the Men's Street team, while Mariah Duran is teamed with Alexis Sablone and Alana Smith in the Women's Street team. Zion Wright rides on the Men's Park team wioth Reynolds and Juneau.

The group was appropriately unveiled in Southern California, where the sport was invented roughly 70 years ago in the parks, streets, plazas and empty swimming pools of 20th-century America’s sunshine wonderland.

NBC 7's Steven Luke caught up with Team USA's top-ranked skateboard kicking and pushing his way to Tokyo.

Decades after the likes of Tony Hawk, Mark Gonzales and Rodney Mullen carried this charismatic pastime into worldwide competition and capitalism, skateboarding has reached the pinnacle of sports.

Josh Friedberg, a lifelong skater who now serves as USA Skateboarding's CEO, teared up repeatedly Monday, both before and after he introduced the team.

“I think the weight of what we've accomplished is finally sinking in,” Friedberg said. “It was an overwhelming and exhilarating day to be here, to have the chance to work on something since you were 13 years old, and to finally have the chance to share that with the world.”

Bryce Wettstein,15, of Encinitas, is already on the Team USA shortlist for a shot at history. She has her eye on the Tokyo Games. NBC 7's Steven Luke speaks to the teen about how she's working toward her goal; much of her practicing happens in her very own backyard skatepark.

While the skaters all seemed thrilled by the spotlight trained on skateboarding, the American team also reflected the slight ambivalence among many lifelong skaters still adjusting to the Olympics’ welcoming inclusion of their beloved sport while it’s still frowned upon or outright criminalized in large public parts of the world — and while many skaters still don't warm to the competitive aspects of what they consider a friendly, communal lifestyle pursuit, not a cutthroat athletic endeavor.

Some longtime skaters are still conflicted about how skateboarding's welcoming ethos fits into the competitive Olympic framework — and that includes the 34-year-old Sablone, who is also an architect and artist living in New York.

With the Tokyo Olympics being postponed to 2021, The New York Times caught up with Olympic hopefuls, like surfer Jordy Smith, skateboarder Jagger Eaton and Paralympic swimmer Mallory Weggemann, to see how they are keeping busy during their unexpected downtime.

“I never, ever would have expected this,” Sablone said. “Skateboarding is about freedom and all that stuff. In some ways, it’s not about competition, but here we are. … It’s not something I ever predicted, but it’s an incredible honor to be here doing this.”

Sablone noted that the sport's tradition of free expression and individuality shone through even in the U.S. skaters' choice of kits for their unveiling: Given several items of Team USA gear to choose from, all 12 skaters picked a unique look.

“Skateboarding has always been a home for me,” said the 20-year-old Smith, who became the youngest medalist in X Games history in 2013. “Growing up in not a very good household, the people that I've met through skateboarding have been my rocks. Every time I needed something, skateboarding was always there for me. I started all this at the lowest point, and I would like to say that this is one of my highs, and I get to do it with really great people.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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