Before the world went to shit, we had plans to be in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics. Flights and Airbnbs were booked, and then, of course, lockdowns hit shortly after and there was no way we were going to get press access with how tight restrictions were across all of Japan.
Luckily, we had an anonymous “Olympic insider” who reached out to us saying he would be flying to Tokyo with his country’s delegation and wanted to snap some photos for Jenkem while they were out there.
At first, we thought it would just be from the stands due to strict security guidelines, but after a glitch in the system, they were granted full, on-course access. Here’s an inside look at what it felt like to be one of the lucky few to travel to Tokyo and witness the first-ever skateboarding Olympics.
Getting off the plane you were met by dudes in lab coats that escorted you through mazes of clearance sites in a completely empty Tokyo airport. These dudes surrounded your every move. If you had to piss, they’d make you go to designated toilets for foreigners. It was wild how tight things were. The whole thing was like a horror movie. I have no idea how many tests and approval stations I had to go through.
I had no idea what these snacks were while I waited at the airport so I was just trying them all out. Half of them were either gummies or chocolate. It was a guessing game at that point and I was drunk and had been up for 24 hours.
The mandatory Tokyo 2020 car service wasn’t bad at all. Homeboy had on fire gloves and there was strong WiFi in all the whips, along with a TV playing clips of Yuto Horigome. Throughout the event lenses were always on him. Yuto will be a national treasure for the rest of his life after the Olympics.
I had just gotten out of the shower and the door opened up. This Japanese lady walked in with two glasses and a bottle of champagne. All I could think was that this is how a lot of porno starts. Skaters had to sleep on beds made of cardboard in the Olympic Village while I embarrassingly got the royal treatment.
The Street park was huge. I think it was probably a bit too spread out. You were seeing skaters run out of time before their last trick, I think there was more distance between obstacles than they’re used to. Everything also was a little bit too much on the monstrous size. I don’t know if it translated well on TV, but the A-frame rail was very sackable and way too long.
If you felt like there were more bails than normal, it might have been because of some humidity issues with the rails. They painted the rails the day before the event and, whatever paint they used mixed with the humidity and heat, and it meant that the wax wasn’t working that well. That’s why we may have seen fewer makes than normal. If you were skating, your shit was sticking!
Usually, in a non-COVID time, there’d be a lot more access to free beer and food but it was all pretty tight. The skaters that were in the Olympic Village even had a cap on how much they were allowed to drink. They could grab one or two beers but if they wanted more they would have to get their coach to give approval. That was a shame because we couldn’t really celebrate as much as we wanted after all this work.
There was a theory that was circulating over lunch that Nyjah doesn’t skate as well on outdoor courses. Like, if you look at the last five years, he won every indoor contest but in every outdoor contest, he hasn’t placed as well. I’ll leave it to the nerdiest readers to confirm if this is in fact true or not.
Sit in the box and spit in the tube. This is a process I became all too familiar with as they tested us for Covid six times in three days.
Here’s Jake Ilardi running the USA uniform designed by Parra. I thought France had the best uniform. They probably had the closest thing to modern skate clothes: big baggy white pants, a white polo, a blue dad cap. I think the countries had an opportunity to stick out so there were a lot of wild colors and patterns on some of the uniforms.
As I stood and watched the skateboarding, music like Bad Brains and Mobb Deep played on the speakers. The Olympics are so strict, so it was pretty shocking to hear. Imagine Wu-Tang playing during judo or swimming? It’s pretty amazing we retained that part of the culture and we owe all the people that fought to keep some of the pillars of skating intact because this shit could have been totally sideways.
The Japanese coach and the skaters were super calculated. Yuto would go over to the coach right after every trick during the competition. The coach had a pen and paper with all of Yuto’s tricks and he’d suggest what trick to try next. They would calculate what the other people were doing, and they knew the ten tricks or so that Yuto had on lock. It was a very smart Moneyball style skating. That’s something you didn’t see on TV—the math of it.
Also, word on the street was that Yuto skated Pulaski a few weeks ago. Can you imagine someone competing in Karate taking street fights weeks before the Olympics? Amazing.
This was the start of the medal ceremony. I definitely wasn’t supposed to be on the deck for this. While there were no crowds, the amount of press there was insane. There were over 100 people there with those big cameras and reporters from all over the world, rows of media that you had to walk by and get interviewed by on your way out of the course. I think that came into play for Nyjah and the other skaters. I can’t imagine the pressure he had. This was supposed to be his big moment.
No matter how big Tony Hawk gets, he’ll always be a skate nerd. I thought he was there doing commentary, but he was mostly walking around and skating. He was pretty protected and stayed in areas where he was mostly inaccessible to staff, media, and other visitors because everyone wants a picture with Tony.
Japanese portions are much smaller. For breakfast, I would have to ask the chef for four times the portions and he’d just give me a tiny scoop of eggs, two mini broccolis, and like three pieces of mushroom. I didn’t wanna sound greedy, but I’m a big dude and I need the early morning protein. The chef was looking at me confused, like, “Do you seriously want more, you fatass?”
On the last morning, I escaped from the hotel. There were security guards to make sure foreigners didn’t leave certain areas, but they are Japanese, so they were very polite. I just kinda smiled at them and kept walking by with headphones. I wanted to get my kid a present, and I was looking for a toy store but I ended up in a sex district. It was a shame I didn’t get to the underbelly of Tokyo. You could probably find a crazy sex show, like someone fucking an eel.
On the last night, I got drunk because the driver let me drink beers in the back. I asked him, “What’s a once-in-a-lifetime food to eat?” He suggested fugu, which is poisonous blowfish. All I could think about was that Simpsons episode, so I went down to the concierge and I had them order me a plate of blowfish to the room. It was like a deep-fried, super soft, kind of buttery white fish. It was fucking delicious. If you ever go to Japan I highly recommend this.
Photos & Words: Ron Mexico
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