By Rory Carroll
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The spectator-free Tokyo Olympics was a disappointment for top-ranked U.S. skateboarder Nyjah Huston but he reckons it will be a different story when fans pack the stands in Paris next year.
Huston struggled to stay upright in the street skating final in July 2021 and was had to settle for seventh place, a shock for the most dominant and highest-paid skateboarder of all time.
“I’m very excited for Paris,” fan favourite Huston told Reuters at a swanky party at the Ralph Lauren store in Beverly Hills to celebrate the one-year countdown to the Paris Games.
“It will be nice to experience a more normal Olympics and have the crowd, have the energy of the fans. It will be a lot better feeling out there.”
Huston, a six-time world champion and 13-time X Games gold medallist who boasts 5.1 million followers on Instagram, said his Olympic performance was not too surprising given he had struggled at other fan-free competitions during the pandemic.
“As skaters, we really feed off of the hype and the energy of our homies in the crowd,” he said. “I’m definitely excited to have another chance to go out and represent the USA.”
At the party, three-time Olympic champion snowboarder Shaun White and Huston discussed bouncing back from their respective leg injuries, with Huston telling White he had fully recovered from his ACL tear last August.
Huston, 28, dominated the WST Street Skateboarding men’s final in Rome last month to retain his title with his first win since the injury.
White said the experience Huston gained in Tokyo will help him enormously in Paris next summer.
“There’s nothing like a second crack at it, a second bite at the apple,” White told Reuters.
“He’s so talented. But it’s one of those things where, and this has happened to me, you can have an off day on a really important day.
“We’re human. That’s one of the hardest parts about competing at the Olympics is you have to crescendo at the right moment. And it has to be within the day and hour and minute of your event.
“But he’s definitely going to be come back and give it hell, I’m sure.”
Ryan Sheckler, a skateboarding prodigy like Huston who became the face of the sport in the 2000s, predicted his fellow Californian would return with a vengeance next summer.
“I think Nyjah is coming in hot because he has something to prove,” said Sheckler, 33, whose meteoritic rise and comeback from injuries is chronicled in the documentary “Rolling Away,” which was released on Saturday on Red Bull TV.
“He is the borderline most talented skateboarder that I’ve ever seen and he’s coming to win. He doesn’t know how to go into a contest and not win,” Sheckler said in a video interview.
“The Olympics will be his holy grail of competitive skateboarding.”
WILL TO WIN
For many, skateboarding’s debut at the Olympics marked a turning point for the sport, which was invented by surfers in Southern California in the 1950s and has influenced everything from art to fashion.
But of the 12 medals handed out for the sport in Tokyo, the U.S. team managed just two bronze.
Critics have suggested the U.S. did not bring sufficient competitive drive to the event as competitors from different countries cheered each other on in the otherwise empty concrete skate park on a blisteringly hot day in Tokyo.
Huston said being supportive of other skaters is baked into the culture of the sport and he is very motivated to win gold for Team USA.
“As skateboarders, we’re not out there seeing each other as rivals. We’re all cool with each other,” said Huston, who got his first sponsorship deal at seven years old and turned pro at 11.
“If someone lands a trick on the course, even if they are not my close friend, I’m still going to hype them up and go – yo that was tight. That’s just how we are as people.
“But no matter if it’s Olympics, X Games or even a smaller contest, I’m always going to go out there and try to do my best. I’ve always had that competitive nature in me since I was a little kid.”
Huston will be 33 when the Olympics return to Los Angeles in 2028 and said the long runway has given him an incentive to stay on top of his fitness.
“I’m happy that it’s going to be in LA that year because I feel like it’s the extra motivation I need to keep myself healthy for as long as possible.
“When it comes down to it, skateboarding is a very young sport. If you look at most of the guys that went out there, they’re around 19, 20 years old. My easiest years ever for winning contests were when I was 15 to 20 years old.
“But I think even having the opportunity to be there and be able to skate a home Olympics will be insane.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Ken Ferris)