Summit locals Red Gerard, DC Oetken talk Olympic skateboarding at Dew Tour
Summit County was well represented at a skateboarding press conference in Long Beach, California, on Thursday, with locals Red Gerard and Jonathan “DC” Oetken fielding questions.
Oetken moderated the event, and Gerard was called in to offer insight on Olympic snowboarding as the most relatable sport to Olympic skateboarding.
The event was hosted by Mountain Dew and titled the Dew Tour qualifier “crash course” in an effort to give everyone listening an education on skateboarding’s inclusion in the Olympics.
Several pro skateboarders and industry stakeholders helping usher the sport into the Tokyo Olympic Games answered pre-prepared questions from Oetken before opening it up to the press.
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The industry leaders and professional athletes were there “to help us gain a better understanding around skateboarding’s inaugural Olympic world qualifying process and how it will affect the skateboarding culture,” Oetken said.
The panel was quick to admit that the Olympics has created some nervousness within the skateboarding community, and Gerard talked about how the same apprehension once affected snowboarding. Gerard’s discipline of slopestyle was first introduced to the Olympics in 2014.
“The Olympics brought so many different countries to snowboarding,” Gerard said. “I don’t know if it’s really changed, necessarily. You have the core filming group that still doesn’t really do contests and all that, but I’d say all the contest people are aiming for the Olympics still and are still pretty down with it.”
Surfing and climbing, too
For extreme sports athletes like Gerard, there’s several sports in addition to skateboarding to be excited about in the 2020 Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee wanted to add something “new and fresh” to the sport lineup in Tokyo, said IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell.
“For Tokyo, we’ve got skateboarding, we’ve got surfing, we’ve got sport climbing, we’ve got BMX freestyle,” McConnell said. “We went out very deliberately and said, ‘Look, what are the new sports that have the greatest impact with young people?’ And obviously, skateboarding was just about at the top of the list.”
Gerard said he was “beyond happy” to be at the event and see the athletes begin the qualification process for the Olympics, which was the first qualifier to be held in the U.S. and the first qualifier for the park discipline.
In addition to park, the street discipline of skateboarding will also be an Olympic sport. The first Olympic qualifier for street was held in London in May.
The Dew Tour events, as explained by World Skate skateboarding manager Luca Basilico, are five-star events, meaning — in tabulating a skateboarder’s world ranking — the Dew Tour competitions were weighted one tier below the pro tour, which is one tier below the highest level of competition, the World Championships. That’s important to understand, explained USA Skateboarding CEO Josh Friedberg, because it adds a layer of objectivity to skateboarding as an Olympic sport, which — as a judged sport — has subjective layers to it.
“(Skateboarders) are able to compete in the open qualifiers, they’re able to get into these events and earn points, so who you see in Tokyo is totally based on the skaters,” Friedberg said. “That was a system we thought was totally more fair than having countries name skaters that would compete based on quota spots earned, potentially, by other skaters.”
In snowboarding, Friedberg’s example can come to pass, as a country which earns four spots in, for instance, Gerard’s discipline of slopestyle, can subjectively name their four athletes if that country doesn’t end up having four snowboarders meet the country’s own objective entry standards during the qualification period, which often takes place after the country’s number of spots are allocated.
For skateboarding’s Olympic debut, World Skate — the sport’s governing body – will first allow the host country one athlete from each gender in each discipline, and next, the top three finishers from the 2020 World Championships will automatically qualify. Finally, World Skate will make sure each continent has at least one athlete represented. Aside from that, the top 20 skateboarders in the world rankings — with each country allowed a maximum of three athletes from each gender and each discipline — will earn invites to Tokyo 2020 in each discipline of Olympic skateboarding.
And then there’s Shaun
While Gerard represented snowboarders on the panel, one snowboarder who was not in attendance could not be ignored.
“The question we always get is the Shaun White question, because Shaun has made it clear that he wants to compete in the Olympics in skateboarding,” Friedberg said. “And the answer has been, ‘If anyone can do it it’s Shaun.’”
More realistically, Friedberg added, if anyone can do it it’s also Ayumu Hirano, a Ski & Snowboard Club Vail alum from Japan who was Shaun White’s main competition in halfpipe snowboarding in 2018. White credits Hirano for pushing him to land his back-to-back 1440 spins to win gold in PyeongChang. Hirano was the silver medalist on that day.
While White has not yet earned the ranking in park skateboarding to qualify for 5-star events like the Dew Tour, Hirano has, and made it through to the quarterfinal round over the weekend in Long Beach, finishing 24th.
In May, Hirano won the Japanese national championship in park skateboarding, and with Japan guaranteed a spot regardless of world rankings, Hirano’s bid seems in well reach.
Meanwhile White has “a long, hard road in front of him,” Friedberg said on Thursday. “There is amazing park skateboarders, Shaun’s specialty in skateboarding is vert and it’s not in the Olympics. He has announced that he wants to try and compete (in park); we’re excited to see what he does and I think either way, it’s a great story if he makes it because he is an insane competitor; it’s a great story if he doesn’t because it shows the level of park skateboarding in the world.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.