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Skateboarding: Japan's Horigome rides into Tokyo Olympic medal contention

Yuto Horigome poses for a picture in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, on Nov. 13, 2018. (Mainichi/Emi Naito)

TOKYO -- A 19-year-old skateboarder and rising gold medal contender for the 2020 Tokyo Games, where the sport will make its debut as an Olympic event, has inched his star a little higher with two consecutive wins in the world's premier Street League Skateboarding (SLS) tour.

Yuto Horigome, a native of Tokyo's Koto Ward, began skateboarding at age 6. Now, he uses creative tricks to compete head-to-head with some of the top SLS boarders. The skater came out on top at the May 2018 SLS World Tour Pro Open in London -- the first Japanese competitor to ever do so. He then came in first at the Los Angeles Finals in July, beating rivals like four-time SLS competition series champ Nyjah Huston. Horigome was able to realize his dream of winning a major U.S. tournament.

Horigome said his "technique improved" after moving his training over to the U.S. He has been living with foreign athletes in Los Angeles since last year. Skaters in the United States can improve their skills at the many skate parks there, which have ramps of various sizes and shapes, among other features.

Horigome is expert in the "Nollie 270 Switch Backside Tailslide." In this rail trick, he lifts his back foot up from the board when jumping, lands on the rail after rotating 270-degrees, and slides down backwards. Skaters in the 1990s originally used the trick on concrete curbs. However, Horigome performed the stunt on a handrail down a 10-step staircase.

Skaters focused on technical skill like him are rare in competitions currently dominated by dynamic tricks like jumps. "You can't stand out with the same (performance) as everyone else," Horigome said. He recalled with a smile the time he "saw old footage (of the nollie) and thought it might be cool to try on a rail."

The 19-year-old mostly competes in a style called "street skateboarding," involving urban obstacles like handrails. However, he performed well in a "park skateboarding" style world championship, coming in sixth place without preparing for the event. Horigome is considering competing at the Tokyo Games as a two-way skater. But "I'm still at the starting line," he said of his good performance. At the same time, he dreams of "earning a gold medal" in 2020 if he can perform at his best.

(Japanese original by Kazuhiro Tahara, Sports News Department)

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