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Three skateboarding prodigies to watch at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics

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Some of the youngest athletes at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics will be skateboarders born decades after the historically anti-establishment sport first emerged in the empty swimming pools and sidewalks of Venice Beach, Ca. 

In the U.S. we have a long track record of captivation (verging on obsession) with young female athletes performing superhuman feats, especially in gymnastics. But this summer, we will be introduced to an entirely new image of girl athlete, from a sport that prides itself on being unconventional and transgressive.

Making its Olympic debut, the skateboarding competition is divided into two events: Street and Park. The Street course includes stairs, rails, curbs, and slopes. The Park course has deep bowls with smooth vertical walls for tricks with more arial height. Athletes specialize in one or the other, and right now three of the top six overall ranked skaters on the women’s side are youngsters just 12-14 years old. 

These three young skater girls are poised to compete for Olympic gold while transforming our concept of what a world-class athlete is.

Misugu Okamoto – Park

Fourteen-year-old Misugu Okamoto took up skateboarding at age eight and has been on a vertical trajectory, both in the park and in the rankings, ever since. In 2019 she went five for five in international competitions and has placed first in four of the last five Olympic qualifying events. 

Now sitting at the number one spot in the World Skate rankings, the Japanese born and raised teen is looking to win the first ever gold medal in Skateboarding Park in her home country this summer.

Okamoto first got hooked on skating when she began joining her brother at a local skate park. It was there that she began training with a family of pro skaters known as TRIFORCE. Just before finishing sixth grade, Okamoto left home to live full time in the TRIFORCE household so that she could train with her coaches six days a week. If it were up to her, it would likely be seven, but the park where they practice is closed on Mondays.

Similar to half pipe in snowboarding, park skating is all about landing the most difficult tricks. One of those is the 540, where the skater rotates a full 360 degree plus another 180 degrees in the air before landing. 

Okamoto’s 540s have carried her far in competition thus far, but now that many skaters are conquering this high-level trick, her coaches know she needs to keep pushing the envelope to stay ahead of the pack. And Okamoto feels the pressure. When the Olympics were postponed due to the pandemic, there was no relief in thoughts of extra rest. As she told Dew Tour early in the shut down, “I feel pressured from the pause. It means I need to progress more, now that there is time.” 

When Olympic action gets underway this summer, the world will get to see what tricks Okamoto has added and if it’ll be enough to win her the gold.

Rayssa Leal – Street

One of the latest phenoms to come out of Brazil is 13-year-old Rayssa Leal. Although she only just began to appear on pro event podiums, her introduction to the global skate world came at age seven, when Tony Hawk reposted a clip of her heel flipping down a set of stairs in a fairy costume. 

In the years since, she has proven she is way more than just a viral video, and in her first international competition she skated her way onto the podium, earning 3rd place at Street League World Tour London 2019, the first Olympic qualifying event for Tokyo. A few months later, she became the youngest skater to ever win a Street League Skateboarding event when she took first place at SLS Los Angeles at just 11-years-old. Yes, ELEVEN years old.

With podium finishes in all but one Olympic qualifying event, Leal is sitting solidly at number two overall in the World Skate Street rankings. The youngest of four Brazilian women in the top ten Street rankings, Leal is hoping to add Olympic medalist to her growing list of accolades.

 Sky Brown – Park

Chances are good that in the not-so-distant future, Sky Brown will be a household name. Similar to Leal, videos of Brown as a little kid on a skateboard went viral starting when she was just four-year-old. Now twelve, Brown has a YouTube channel with 266K subscribers, almost 800K followers on Instagram, an official music video, and a book. She loves to surf, is learning to play guitar, wants to be a dancer, is into clothes and make-up, and also just happens to have insane skateboarding skills that back up all the hype and media attention. The smiley TikTok loving teen is currently ranked third in the world in Park skating.

After Brown suffered a horrific fall in May 2020 while practicing on Tony Hawk’s 14 ft. ramp, her parents would have been fine if she never wanted to skate again. But in the days following the accident that left her with multiple skull fractures, a broken arm, broken fingers, and lacerations to her lungs, Brown’s love for the sport revealed itself to be stronger than ever. Within a few weeks, she was back on her board and was as determined as ever to get back to pushing the envelope in the air. 

As Lucy Brown, head of Skateboard Great Britain, described her to ESPN last summer, “She’s in the category of women and girls that are going to be sort of achieving ‘NBDs’. That’s what we call ‘Never Been Done.’ She’s going to be one of the first girls to land a 720. She’s going to be a girl that’s going to push it with tricks that haven’t been landed by women yet.” 

With skateboarding on the global stage this summer, the world will get to see just how far this fearless youngster is ready to push it.

The Late Sub Podcast: This Is Sophia Smith’s USWNT Attack Now

Sophia Smith dribbles during the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico on Saturday.
Sophia Smith scored the lone goal in the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico last Saturday. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins breaks down the days leading up to the first USWNT Olympic send-off friendly, discussing player performances, things that worked well on the pitch, and what still needs developing as coach Emma Hayes's team moves towards a crucial Olympic competition set to will dictate the future of the team.

She then sets her sights on the WNBA, previewing WNBA All-Star Weekend and chatting with Gatorade Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Joyce Edwards alongside Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally.

Subscribe to The Late Sub to never miss an episode.

USWNT Looks to Extend Winning Streak in Final Olympic Send-Off

USWNT striker Sophia Smith dribbles through Costa Rican defenders during a 2022 Concacaf W Championship game.
The USWNT last took on Costa Rica at the 2022 Concacaf Championship semifinal. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The USWNT’s last tune-up match before the Olympics has arrived, with the FIFA world No. 5 US looking for an 18th-straight all-time win over No. 44 Costa Rica tonight at Washington, DC's Audi Field.

Just three days after a redemptive 1-0 victory over No. 29 Mexico, head coach Emma Hayes’s Paris-bound roster appears to be finding its stride. Calling Saturday’s win "a step in the right direction," Hayes went on to say, "I think we’re only scratching the surface. I think there’s a lot of layers to go from everyone."

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 13: USWNT coach Emma Hayes stands on the field before a game between Mexico and USWNT
The new-look USWNT is looking to hit its stride after several matches under Hayes. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Hayes's USWNT is still finding its footing

With their first Olympic group stage game against No. 64 Zambia slated for July 25th, the new-look USWNT — which features the youngest roster in 16 years — is working to define its style of play.

While the USWNT’s signature ability to score in transition remains a strong point, the team also acknowledged their shaky first half on Saturday, with midfielder Rose Lavelle commenting that they're "working on being a little more tactically flexible... We’re trying to, as a group, learn how to adjust on the fly and be a little smarter with our adjustments during the games."

The patience required to choose their moments, along with the team’s ability to read and anticipate each other's movements, is clutch to increasing effectiveness in the areas where the USWNT appeared most disjointed against Mexico.

At stake is an Olympic podium finish, where the US hopes to improve on their bronze medal performance in Tokyo — but the team also aims to make a splash amidst their increasingly sophisticated opponents.

Costa Rica captain Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez chases the ball during a match against Panama in 2020.
Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez, Costa Rica's captain, is the only NWSL on their Olympic roster. (Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Rodriguez leads a rising Costa Rica team

If improving offensive unity and production is tonight’s goal, Las Ticas could provide the ideal matchup: In their 17 previous meetings, the USWNT has outscored Costa Rica 90-2 overall.

That said, Costa Rica has switched things up since the sides last met in July 2022, with the US defeating the Central American squad 3-0 in the Concacaf Championship semifinal. Las Ticas competed in the 2023 World Cup and reached the Gold Cup quarterfinals earlier this year, where they narrowly fell to No. 8 Canada in extra time.

Costa Rica is captained by 30-year-old Angel City midfielder Rocky Rodriguez, the lone NWSL player on their roster and, in 2015, the first Costa Rica national to ever score in a Women's World Cup.

In addition to maintaining a perfect record against Costa Rica, the USWNT will look to extend their current unbeaten streak to nine, which includes three shutouts in Hayes’s first three matches at the helm.

Lindsay Horan drinks water before the USWNT's match against Ireland in April 2023.
An excessive heat warning is in effect for Washington, DC today. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images)

Where to watch the USWNT vs. Costa Rica friendly

Expect some hydration breaks due to DC's scorching temperatures during tonight’s 7:30 PM ET match, airing live on TNT and streaming on Peacock.

TruTV and Max will simultaneously air the first-ever USWNT altcast, hosted by retired USWNT star Sam Mewis, former USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn, and Men in Blazers founder Roger Bennett.

Sizing Up USWNT’s 2024 Olympic Competition

Germany's Giulia Gwinn steps to the ball while Iceland's Sandra Jessen slides in during Friday's UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match.
Germany lost their Euros qualifier against Iceland 3-0 on Friday, less than two weeks before Olympic football begins. (Hulda Margret/Getty Images)

With Olympic soccer kicking off in just over a week, the USWNT isn't the only national squad prepping for the podium with a series of pre-Paris matchups. Both international friendlies and important qualifiers are on the docket, with several European teams competing for a spot in the UEFA Women's EURO 2025.

Regardless of the stakes, these performances might provide some insight into what the USWNT can expect once the Summer Games begin.

Czechia national soccer team celebrates as Spain women's national soccer team defender Laia Aleixandri leaves the pitch
FIFA World No. 1 Spain fell to Czechia on Friday in a 2025 Euros qualifier. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Pre-Olympic matches expose problems for top teams

Of the 12 Olympic teams, recent outings from FIFA world No. 1 Spain and No. 4 Germany featured the most shocking outcomes.

Despite dominating possession behind an opening goal from 2023 Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí, the 2023 World Cup winners fell 2-1 to No. 30 Czechia in Friday's Euros qualifier — their first loss of 2024. They managed to bounce back on Tuesday, however, beating Belgium 2-0 to finish out the league stage on top with 15 points.

Spain heads into the Summer Games aiming to become the first women’s team to win a World Cup and Olympic gold back-to-back, though they’ll need to reclaim their composure to achieve that feat in the face of an Olympic group that includes Japan, Nigeria, and Brazil.

France defender Sakina Karchaoui celebrates her opening goal during Friday's 2-1 win over Sweden.
Defender Sakina Karchaoui scored the opening goal in France's 2-1 win over Sweden on Friday. (ARNAUD FINISTRE/AFP via Getty Images)

No. 2 France took down No. 6 Sweden 2-1 in Friday's Euro qualifier, but flipped the script on Tuesday with a 3-1 loss to last-place No. 25 Republic of Ireland, who notched their first win. However, thanks to England's 0-0 draw with Sweden — also on Tuesday — France still topped their qualifying group with 12 points. Les Bleus will look for more consistent results going into the Olympics, where they're set to face Colombia, New Zealand, and Guinea in the group stage.

But it was Germany who stumbled the hardest, losing out 3-0 to No. 14 Iceland in their own Friday qualifier. After the match, Germany's head coach Horst Hrubesch didn’t mince words.

"We have to assert ourselves from the start in the individual battles. The way we played just wasn’t good," Hrubesch told reporters. "We deserved to lose. We handed them all three goals on a plate."

Tuesday also saw improvement for Germany, as they routed Austria 4-0 to claim first place in the group standings with 15 points.

But the earlier loss was still foreboding for this German squad. The two-time world champions fell to 3-2 to Zambia just weeks before the 2023 World Cup, before failing to advance past the World Cup group stage for the first time in the tournament’s history. Germany also faces some tough Olympic group stage competition, battling Australia and the USWNT before crossing paths with Zambia once again.  

Team Canada celebrate their victory in the 2020 Olympic Gold Medal Match with Sweden
Team Canada has their work cut out for them if they want to repeat their Tokyo gold medal run. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Friendlies rally Olympic teams outside Europe

Defending Olympic champs FIFA World No. 8 Canada defeated No. 12 Australia 2-1 on Saturday, with KC Current forward Nichelle Prince and ex-Gotham striker Evelyne Viens both scoring in the friendly. Canada will play world No. 36 Nigeria in a closed-door friendly on Wednesday before kicking off their Olympic campaign against New Zealand on July 25th. 

For their part, No. 28 New Zealand drew 1-1 in a friendly with No. 64 Zambia on Saturday, while non-Olympic-bound Ecuador handed No. 22 Colombia a 2-1 send-off loss.

Liberty, Aces Surge Ahead of WNBA All-Star Weekend

NY Liberty's Sabrina Ionescu dribbles up the Chicago Sky court on Saturday.
NY Liberty's Sabrina Ionescu is scoring a career-high 19.4 points per game on the season. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty head into the last week of regular play prior to WNBA All-Star Weekend — and the subsequent Olympic break — firmly ahead of the pack with the WNBA's best regular season record, becoming the first team this season to reach 20 wins on Saturday.

With Breanna Stewart briefly sidelined, Sabrina Ionescu led the Liberty to a two-game sweep of the Chicago Sky, topping the score sheet in both games. Ionescu is currently averaging 19.4 points per game, the highest in her career (not including her three-game rookie year).

Las Vegas center A'ja Wilson shoots over Atlanta center Tina Charles on July 12th, 2024.
A'ja Wilson posted her third-straight 25-point, 15-rebound performance last weekend. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Aces excel behind WNBA MVP favorite A'ja Wilson

The Aces continued climbing the table behind A'ja Wilson's record-breaking run, finishing the weekend in third with a record of 16-7. On Sunday, Wilson became the first player in WNBA history to register three consecutive 25-point, 15-rebound performances.

With Sunday's 89-77 victory over the Mystics, Las Vegas has won 10 of their last 11 games following the return of starting point guard Chelsea Gray. The third-place Aces are now nipping at the heels of the Liberty and second-place Connecticut Sun (18-5), with the Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm tied for fourth at 16-8.

The push for playoff positioning grows fierce

Amidst the looming Olympic break, further down in the WNBA standings, sixth-place Phoenix dropped to 12-12 on a two-game skid, while Indiana won eight of their last 10 games to capture seventh.

Eighth-place Chicago currently holds onto the final playoff spot, with double-double machine Angel Reese boosting the Sky's stats despite back-to-back losses.

Speaking of double-doubles, Reese's record-breaking double-double streak came to an end after Saturday's loss to the Liberty.

A frontrunner for WNBA Rookie of the Year, Reese finished with eight points and 16 rebounds against New York, falling just a couple points short of what would have been her 16th-straight double-double. The LSU grad's record stands as the longest double-double streak in WNBA history, surpassing previous record-holder Candace Parker by three games.

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Next up: WNBA All-Star Weekend

Regular season WNBA play extends through Wednesday, with all eyes turning to the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game this upcoming weekend. The highly anticipated matchup between the US Olympic squad and WNBA All-Stars tips off on Saturday, July 20th in Phoenix.

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