Skateboarding is not just for boys: that message rang out loud and clear on Thursday as Team GB announced its first Olympic skateboarding team, headed up by two young women who will barely be in their teens when the Tokyo Games kick off.
Sky Brown will become Britain’s youngest summer Olympian when she competes in Tokyo at the age of 13 years and 11 days alongside the 14-year-old Bombette Martin, with both girls making history with their inclusion in skateboarding’s debut on the biggest stage in sport.
Speaking as their official selection was confirmed, Brown said that by being “the little one in there, going big” she hoped she could showcase the merits of the sport to which she has dedicated her young life, and show other girls they have no reason to be afraid.
“I’m just excited to be in the Olympics. Skating the new bowl, skating with all my friends again, and hopefully getting gold and inspiring people,” she said with a 100-watt smile. “It’s a crazy feeling. It’s like more than a dream come true. I mean, it’s insane. I’m so stoked and I’m going to try my best for Britain.”
Martin said the reality was only just sinking in: “I’m going to be an Olympian and I’m going to be able to say that for the rest of my life. I’m just so excited.”
When Brown takes to her board in Tokyo she will claim the title of Britain’s youngest summer Olympian from the swimmer Margery Hinton, who was 13 years and 44 days when she competed in Amsterdam in 1928. “Everyone from all around the world is watching. And I feel like if I’m … the little one in there going big … hopefully they’ll think that maybe they could do it and show the world how fun skateboarding is and how creative it is,” she said.
But the main group Brown is hoping to win over is other young girls who may think the sport is not for them. “If you go to the skatepark it’s mostly boys there. Now there’s more and more girls there, which is cool, but it’s usually mostly boys. And I feel like sometimes girls are scared to be the only girl and they’re scared to be judged by the boys.
“But I feel like watching the Olympics, seeing how many girls are doing the sport and how good [they are], they’re gonna really want to [try it], which I’m really happy about.”
Despite her age, Brown has already faced major challenges in getting to the Olympics. Last year her father, who will accompany her to Tokyo, said she was “lucky to be alive” after falling and sustaining multiple injuries in training in California. She fractured her skull and broke her left wrist and hand, and was unresponsive when she arrived at hospital having been airlifted by a helicopter.
It was, Brown admitted, “a really tough time” but she insisted it hadn’t dented her confidence. “I wasn’t scared at all. I just wanted to get back. I was excited and actually felt stronger. I actually wanted to do more things,” she said.
You might wonder if the preteen is scared as she steadies her board in her hand, ready to drop into the abyss. Not a bit of it, Brown insists. “I’m just thinking about blasting. I’m just thinking about going high, getting my kicks, getting my line and [having] style.”
Both competitors have American accents, with Brown splitting her time between Japan and the US while Martin grew up in New York, but they each have British fathers.
Raised in Japan by her father and Japanese mother, Brown is currently ranked No 3 in the world. She recently won a silver medal at the US Dew Tour and took third place in the world championships in Rio de Janeiro the previous season.
Martin, meanwhile, is the daughter of John “Bomber” Martin, an ex-amateur boxer from Birmingham. She won the Skateboard GB x Habito National Championships in April and finished in the Top 20 at the Dew Tour. “Whenever I go to England I spend most the time in Birmingham and just every memory I have is wonderful,” she said.
The pair qualified in third and 18th position respectively during the World Skate qualification season.
The new Olympic sport is split into two disciplines. In the street event skaters choose an individual route over stairs, handrails, curbs, benches and slopes, while in park – Brown and Martin’s discipline – competitors traverse smooth bowls with steep sides. Competitors in both disciplines are judged on their tricks, originality and style.
As two of the most recognisable faces of skateboarding in Britain, Martin and Brown have already made a massive impact according to the Team GB skateboarding team leader, Darren Pearcy, who added that there has been a huge growth in participation in the last 18 months, much of it coming from girls taking up the sport.
“When you see someone like Sky or Bombette fly in the air around curves and bumps – you can’t not get excited about that,” he said. “When you’re 12 years old and you’re watching Sky Brown fly through the air, you probably think she’s a superhero.”
Martin predicts that the sport’s popularity is “going to go ‘boom’”, while Brown urges doubters to give skateboarding a chance. “It’s a fun sport, you’ll see,” she said. “There’s lots of unexpected things and it’s super fun to watch.”