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'Just do it!': Age no barrier for young skateboarders in Japan aiming for Olympic glory

Yumeka Oda, 12, is seen skateboarding, in the city of Murakami, Niigata Prefecture, on May 12, 2019. (Mainichi/Junichi Sasaki)

TOKYO -- A 10-year-old skateboarder says she wants to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Games, where the sport will make its debut as an Olympic event, to show that "you can do anything" and that age doesn't matter.

"Just do it, don't be afraid," Sky Brown said with a smile in a video clip uploaded on the Olympic Channel -- an internet television service operated by the International Olympic Committee.

Born to a British father and a Japanese mother, Brown was raised in Miyazaki Prefecture, southwest Japan. She began skateboarding at age 4 and signed a contract with American sports equipment manufacturer Nike, Inc. when she became a professional at 7. The rising rider is aiming to become Britain's youngest summer Olympian ever next year.

When she was 8, Brown became the youngest skater to compete among other foreign professionals at the Vans United States Open Pro Series. She excites audiences by performing amazing tricks when competing in a style called "park skateboarding," in arenas that have curved walls.

Brown has visited Cambodia to support people there by teaching skateboarding skills. She was also featured on an American television program and has more than 360,000 followers on her Instagram account. The young girl is creating an image of athletes representing a new age.

Yumeka Oda, 12, who competed in the world's premier Street League Skateboarding (SLS) tour, agreed with Brown that age does not matter. Riders need excellent skills to compete in a style called "street skateboarding" that involves urban obstacles like handrails and stairs. Oda keeps calm even when flipping her skateboard to perform a trick on a handrail or when jumping over a high staircase.

A first-year junior high school student in Nagoya, central Japan, Oda became interested in the sport after she was attracted to a signboard for a skateboard facility as a second-grader. Instead of training under a strict coach and joining a team like most athletes in Japan do, Oda learned tricks from older boys and girls at the skate park and used her smartphone to search how foreign skaters performed tricks and copied them. Under a free environment, she developed sufficient skills to compete in the SLS World Championship in January.

"There's an athlete that I don't want to lose against. I want to practice more and compete in the Olympics," commented Oda, who finished third in the national skateboarding championships in Niigata Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast this month. The average age of eight people who competed in the street-type finals including Oda was 14. In the park-type finals, 10-year-old Kokona Hiraki from Tomakomai, Hokkaido, claimed victory.

Many athletic organizations have an age limit for Olympic competitors due to the physical burden, but the international skateboarding organization World Skate does not have a limit due to the large number of young riders.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics may see the emergence of Japan's youngest Olympian for both the summer and winter games -- younger than Japanese figure skater Etsuko Inada who competed in the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics at age 12.

(Japanese original by Kazuhiro Tahara, Sports News Department)

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