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‘I wish I could have done better’: O’Neill bows out in men’s street skateboarding heats

There have been plenty of athletes complaining about the hot and humid conditions here in Tokyo but men’s street skateboarder Shane O’Neill isn’t one of them.

His team-issue dark green shirt and even darker pants were dripping wet before he took his first drop to officially become an Olympic competitor.

The 2016 world champion with 1.4 million Instagram followers is a technical skater but today was not his day. The humidity playing havoc with the rubber in his trucks, melting slightly, making the wheels loose and therefore difficult to control.

Again, he’s not complaining, he’s just answering the questions the gathered media are throwing at him to get an idea of what it’s like to know you can win, to know you’ve beaten most of the guys you’re competing against but realising today is not that day.

“Today was not so good, it’s super-hot and I really maybe didn’t choose the wisest tricks,” O’Neill said.

“Just with this heat my board’s a little loose and I was trying a switch 360 double flip and I kept landing and falling off.

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“It was a little difficult out there for me, but I think the rest of the skaters are doing pretty well out there with what they’re trying and I’m happy with the show … like, I’m just happy to be watching as well.”

He’s one of the lucky ones. Aside from the media and gathered officials, including Australian Sports Minister Richard Colbeck, who came along to soak up the atmosphere of Olympic skateboarding, the only way to see the new discipline at the Games was to watch it on TV.

It’s a shame. The Ariake Urban Sports Park flags, flying for each of the competitors, stood like soldiers at attention with the south-easterly breeze keeping them unfurled, the blue sky and beating sun providing a perfect backdrop for enthusiastic supporters who would have had the place humming.

The uber-cool song selection, an audible version of the outfits most of the competitors were wearing, gave the place an aura anyway, along with the American commentary describing how O’Neill had “flipped out going for a solid grind”, and, “the switch flip got away from him”.

It might be one of the Olympic’s newest sports, and whenever one is introduced traditionalists’ eyes roll but, judging from what was on show today, Olympic skateboarding will be popular.

The Californian design of the street course resembled any urban street — with rails, steps, banks and curves allowing limitless interpretations of what to do with the board on wheels under your feet.

And then of course there’s village life, hampered as it is this time around because of strict COVID19 protocols.

“My Olympic experience so far was super good, I loved being in the village and experiencing just meeting all the athletes, the Aussie athletes,” O’Neill said.

He’s been out of Australia for a little over a decade, living in Los Angeles, the spiritual heartland of the sport he practices.

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“It’s cool to be able to link up with a few people and just do our part,” he says in his sometimes Aussie—sometimes American twang.

“It’s a different thing (for skateboarders), we’ve never competed for countries before – ever in skateboarding … at least in my experience and so yeah … it’s super cool.”

After scoring 8.6 on one trick, O’Neill said he had to change his thought processes and go for a higher-scoring move.

“Then I tried a switch 360 double flip, which generally scores around the nine range, which is what I needed, even though it’s such an early round … and I couldn’t get past that.”

O’Neill says unlike most other competitions, that are held indoors in air conditioning, being outdoors and by the water brings a whole different set of challenges.

“We’ve never skated in this heat before, this is like really, really hot and windy, so new conditions … aside from that, it’s just competition as usual,” he said.

“A lot of people are doing super good and I’m really happy about that, I know I didn’t do good but the fact that others are, and we’re really showing what really happens, I’m happy about that.”

O’Neill now has 48 hours to leave the country.

He’s going to phone his daughter, whose sixth birthday he missed to be here, then head back to the village to soak up some more of the atmosphere there before flying back to his normal life. 

The normal life of a full-time professional skateboarder, that is.

The event was won by the reigning world champion from Japan, 22-year-old Yuto Horigome with a combined finals score of 37.18 in the final round ahead of the silver medalist, former world champion from Brazil Kelvin Hoefler (36.15) and bronze medalist, USA’s Jagger Eaton (35.35).

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