Roughly 6 years ago, the potential for becoming a summer olympic event became a hot-button topic in the world of skateboarding. Danny Way had just become the first skateboarder and only to launch across the Great Wall of China and the 2008 Beijing Olympiad was just around the corner, so it made sense to start discussing it. Many well-known professional skateboarders at the time were voicing their opinions through the industry’s major media outlets. Most argued against an olympic event because they felt the Olympics were too commercialized, skateboarding wasn’t supposed to be about competition, or that they disagreed with the direction of their countries and didn’t want to represent them.
On this first day of the 2012 London Games, I figured I would take some time to explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of adding skateboarding as an Olympic sport. I’d also like to dispel some of the criticisms that many have had when asked whether the sport should be added. After all, if skateboarding shouldn’t have competition, why have there been skate contests since it’s creation in the 1960’s? Why do hundreds of thousands watch the competitions on TV?
New Faces Become Household Names
The US, Brazil, Australia, and Canada have numerous household names at this point in time but it would be very interesting to see skateboarders from lesser exposed areas show up and make a name for themselves. I know that countries like Israel, Russia, Indonesia, and Japan are beginning to produce some really talented skateboarders and it would be great if they received well-deserved coverage.
I have no doubt in my mind that there are many young, up-and-coming skateboarders that will watch bits and pieces of the Olympics this week and dream about winning a medal in skateboarding. I understand that some people don’t care about the competitive aspects of skateboarding and don’t care about winning medals and I’m not saying they have to. But just because you might not like it, doesn’t mean that you should discredit someone who does.
Growth of Skateboarding Around the World
Obviously having skateboarding in the Summer Olympics would be a boon to the growth of the sport around the world. There’s no doubt that more people around the world, some of whom have never seen it before, would catch a glimpse of skateboarding. This could create a tremendous opportunity for skateboard companies to expand their business into other parts of the world. I don’t know a skateboard company anywhere that would pass up an opportunity like that. This is one of the positive effects the commercialization of the Olympics has on other sports.
This kind of ties into the previous advantage, but having skateboarding in the Olympics would allow those competing a chance to build their personal brands. Think of how popular NBA players like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant are in other parts of the world. The Olympics are one big reason why that’s the case. People in countries that don’t have regular access to NBA games, are exposed to these great athletes thanks to Olympic coverage. I’m sure that skateboarding would experience a similar effect.
Skateboarding facilities/apparatus would have to be constructed for each Olympic Games. What do you do with that stuff once the games are over? You leave it in the place you built it. I think it would be great for a local community to have an Olympic-grade skatepark that can be used for generations to come. The park would be one more thing that would provide a tremendous lift to the global skateboarding community.
The United States of America has the best skateboarders in the world by a long shot. Even Team USA basketball doesn’t compare to the type of dominance Americans would show in skateboarding. Sure there are some Brazilian and Canadian skateboarders who, from time to time, would be legitimate medal contenders, but that’s about it. Of course this isn’t to say that American dominance is necessarily bad, but I think greater parity would heighten the interest of the global community.
Failed Drug Tests
If you subjected the world’s top skateboarders to drug testing (which is mandatory for all medal winners) there would surely be a few who wouldn’t pass the tests and end up embarrassing the countries they represent. It pains me to say this, but there are a lot of questionable things some skateboarders ingest on a regular basis. Of course, these are performance enhancing drugs, but that shouldn’t matter. Just ask Michael Phelps.
Choosing the Right Events
There are lots of different skateboarding events that could be included in the Olympics like street, vert, big air, longboard racing, and park. The problem is that street is far more popular than the other four, yet isn’t as conducive to a television broadcast. Furthermore, you have to have both male and female events. That can easily be done for street, but in the case of something like big air, I believe only 2 women have ever even skated a mega ramp (used for big air) which would made it a tough sell.
The Gender Gap
I alluded to this before, but there is a huge gender gap in skateboarding. Probably more so than any other board sport. I firmly believe that has to change, but until it does, the gender gap makes having Olympic skateboarding events for women pretty tough. There are some events that would be great for men, but in some cases it would be incredibly difficult to fill a women’s competition with a respectable amount of riders.
Honestly, there will always be criticism for skateboarding’s inclusion in the Summer Olympics and it will mostly come from anger, embittered people who are mad that skateboarding isn’t what it used to be. And those people are welcome to go back to the roots of skateboarding, put the metal wheels and rail guards back on their boards and discover the futility of holding onto the past. Skateboarding in the Olympics will happen one day, so skateboarders everywhere might as well embrace the opportunity to influence how it looks in the future. For if they don’t, someone else will.
Overall, I think adding skateboarding to the Olympics on a limited, experimental basis is a great idea. I feel that the advantages of such inclusion far outweigh the disadvantages. Furthermore, the intrinsic benefits to establishing skateboarding as an Olympic-caliber sport gives it the legitimacy that it has struggled to find for years. Gone would be the days when people thought it was something for kids or something that only scumbags and riff-raff took part in. To me, that’s a great thing. But of course, we’ll just have to wait and see.