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Skateboarding is known for its scrappiness, stunts and general public antics. But it’s also beloved for its creativity, freedom and inclusivity, as Olympian Alana Smith pointed out last month while surrounded by their American teammates. The Tokyo Olympics will bring both the joy and the feistiness of the sport to the masses starting this weekend.
The Olympics aren’t putting skateboarding on the “legitimate sports” map — the X Games have existed since the mid-1990s, after all — but it might be the first time millions of people watch the sport. The skateboarding they’ll see will be a more refined, less risky version of the sport, and old-school skateboarders may see that as antithetical to the culture. But Rob Meronek isn’t worried. The co-founder of skateboarding events production company The Boardr and seasoned competition organizer (and lifelong skateboarder) sees the mainstream exposure of the Olympics as the logical progression of the sport. “If you think skateboarding can be ruined by the Olympics,” he said, “you're thinking incorrectly about skateboarding.”
Think you could judge?
You may have watched the X Games, and maybe you’ve even laid down a kickflip of your own. But do you know what judges will be looking for? Now’s your chance to test your Olympic eye.
There are two disciplines in Olympic skateboarding: park and street. For park, think “Lords of Dogtown,” skating in drained swimming pools, a little vert and some midair tricks. Street is a mix of “flat” tricks and obstacles like rails and stairs.1Jonah Hill’s movie “Mid90s” does a good job of channeling street skating energy. On the Olympic street course, athletes will skate two 45-second runs with five tricks. Judges will score on a 0.0-10.0 scale, based on speed, difficulty, originality, timing and execution.
We’ll show you three individual street tricks with two professional skaters performing each trick in their own style (but not in competition with each other). To help you parse what to look for, we’ve asked Meronek to provide some pointers and review each trick. After you score both skaters, we’ll show you how your score compares to scores from Meronek and other FiveThirtyEight readers.
Let’s start with one of the easiest tricks you might see, the 50-50.
In a 50-50, the skater grinds their board’s trucks — the metal pieces that connect the axles and wheels to the skateboard deck — on a ledge or a rail, frontside or backside depending on whether a skater's chest or back is parallel to the object. Meronek said the key to a well-executed 50-50 is having both trucks square on the ledge or rail and rolling away clean.
In this trick, also known as a Tre Flip, the board spins 360 degrees while the skater doesn’t turn at all. According to Meronek, a strong 360 flip should have a good, solid pop for height, a flick from the front foot, a proper catch in the air with the front foot — no "donkey kick" on the back leg — and feet on the bolts for the landing.
In a frontside boardslide, the skater slides with the middle of their board on a rail or ledge. The slide should be perpendicular to the rail, with the board leveled out on the slide. Meronek looks for the skater’s body to be right above the rail, knees slightly bent with the front leg a little bit extended, before rolling away parallel to the rail.
Thanks for playing! We hope this will help you watch skateboarding like a pro. Check out our other Olympic coverage and these videos to learn more about what’s new in these Summer Olympics:
Video editing by Tony Chow. Additional development by Jay Boice and Julia Wolfe. Story editing by Sara Ziegler. Copy editing by Maya Sweedler. Images and video courtesy of Red Bull Media House and Dew Tour.