More than 11,000 athletes from around the world will gather in Tokyo to compete in next summer’s Olympics — and, of those 11,000, California could see a record number of its athletes on the roster.
The Summer Olympics — already the world’s largest stage for showcasing athletes’ speed, strength, grit, and grace across disciplines — have added several extreme sports to the program.
Two of those new additions, skateboarding and surfing, hope to excite and inspire younger viewers. Athletes bringing their signature daring stunts and gravity-defying jumps to the Olympic stage could do just that.
“Skating is such a rad form of self-expression and creativity,” said Lacey Baker, a seven-time X Games skateboard street medalist. “You have such a rad opportunity to be creative, and do something with no rules, so it’s so beautiful.”
Skateboarding and surfing may be nontraditional for the Olympics, but both sports have a deep history rooted in Southern California.
Malibu-born Tom Schaar, an X Games medalist who competes in both Skateboard Big Air and Park, said the possibility of competing in skateboarding at the Olympic level was “a huge deal” to him.
Whether it’s gymnastics or judo, track or trampoline, biking or badminton, NBCLA sports anchor Fred Roggin says passion is what motivates Olympic athletes.
“Many of the Olympic disciplines are passion driven. You’re not compensated the way athletes in the major professional sports are,” he said. “You’re doing it for your love of the game.”
NBCLA is tracking nearly 200 local athletes who may represent the United States in Tokyo next summer.
“SoCal is always represented in an enormous way,” Roggin said.
There’s Los Angeles-born Allyson Felix — with nine track medals under her belt — making a run for a fifth Olympics.
Kerri Walsh Jennings, the most decorated volleyball Olympian of all time, also boasts California roots.
California native Kim Rhode, who’s already medaled in six consecutive Summer Olympics, is shooting for her seventh.
And the reigning gold medalists in women’s water polo — the United States’ women’s water polo team — has already qualified to compete in 2020.
“We play with a lot of heart,” said Maggie Steffens, the USA women’s water polo captain. “It’s fun, you know. We like to share the ball. We play as a team.”
Over the next year, athletes who are hoping to make their very first Olympic Games will also step into the spotlight.
“The future’s looking bright,” said Michael Norman, a sprinter who currently holds the world record in the indoor 400 meter dash. “We just have to continue to stay focused on what we want to achieve as athletes.”
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