InterviewMarina Jakulic

Inner Workings of Tokyo 2020

InterviewMarina Jakulic
Inner Workings of Tokyo 2020

Skateboarding is growing fast and heading in the direction of Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic games – the first time for skateboarding to be listed as an Olympic sport. Naturally, there are tons of questions and a bit of mystery surrounding this development.   We’ve gotten bits of info from interviews with team captains from Germany and France, seen that creepy Team China video that looks like an army advertisement and through our research, we know that Team Russia’s got that girl who loves to skate to Russian trap music. Other than, it’s been pretty quiet on the information front.

Put simply, we’re nerds and wanted to know more about what was happening with the Canadian skateboarding program and more generally, the Olympics. Drug testing? Athlete development? Olympic-grade training facilities? These are some wild terms that never applied to skateboarding and that most would gawk at – until now.   We went straight to our Olympic source, Ben Stoddard, President of Skateboard Canada, to get some facts about whether or not we should expect something genuine or prepare for a circus act come August 2020.

Illustrations by Pigeon Boy

Who are you and what’s your affiliation with Canada’s involvement in the 2020 Olympic games?

My name is Ben Stoddard. A group of us from across Canada started a non-profit a few years back to grow and promote skateboarding in Canada. This includes preparing for the 2020 games.

And surely there’s coaches and other people involved, right? Who else is apart of Canada Skateboard?

At this moment there are no coaches, I don’t know if we’ll use that word leading into the ‘Games. We like the word ‘Team Manager’, and there are currently people helping the skaters navigate the Canadian Sport system.

This is something we’ve been working with for three years. When we first started Canada Skateboard, just learning the language of the Canadian Sport system was a lot to take in. There are people at Canada Skateboard now that are helping the skaters through this whole process.

Who else is apart of Canada Skateboard as far as skateboarders go?

There’s a board of directors that spans across Canada, as well as an executive committee, a group of trustees and as of November, we’re paying a handful of contractors to work for Canada Skateboard.

We’re trying to keep as many skateboarders involved as possible from the start. On the board of directors we have people like Jay Balmer, the guy who started EA Skate and ran the Slam City Jam contests. We have Rob ‘Sluggo’ Boyce, a Canadian skateboarding legend. Bob LaSalle and Josh Clark. Kevin Harris, the first Canadian pro skater. Kyle Dion, President of Newline Skateparks. Jim Barnum, former Pesident of Spectrum Skateparks. Annie Guglia, who just became our first women’s national street champion. And Mike Pragnell. He used to make the Skate Canada videos and is an international judge.

From there it stems down to trustees across Canada including pro skaters, photographers, skate distributors, non-profits and other people/groups involved in the industry that we keep in the loop.

What’s the point of these trustees? Do they keep the program in check?

The way we looked at it was that everyone is a part of Canada Skateboard. From the skaters all the way up to our executive board, we’re all volunteers because it’s a non-profit charity. Everyone is involved as much as they want to be involved. That ranges from becoming a member on our website up to becoming an actual voting member on the board. Our mission statement is to promote and grow skateboarding across Canada so if you’re doing that in any way and you’re apart of Canada Skateboard, then you are Canada Skateboard.

How did the core body get picked? How did you get involved?

I was working at a skateboard mag and heard that the Olympics might be coming, Tokyo was going to be the first year and that the American guys were doing everything they could to keep skaters involved with it. With other sports in the past, we’ve seen core people get pushed to the side when it comes to the structure and organization. We didn’t want that to happen in skateboarding.

I was privy to that information early so I reached out to the Canadian Olympic Committee and my friends at Canada Snowboard, who also helped get Canada Skateboard going. From there, we started extending the olive branch across Canada to those who we thought were the right representation of what Canadian skateboarding was at that moment.

Then it was this broader pool of trustees. From that group, and over the initial 6 months, we had our first official meetings. From there, we elected our first board of directors. I was lucky to get elected as president and we have a secretary, a treasurer and 12 board members. There’s some people who decided not to be on the board and remained as trustees because when the time comes, they might actually be a good fit to get paid and be the staff for us. They’re seeing that there could be potential work from this organization.

And that leads to my next question – who gets to skate for Team Canada and how do they get picked?

It’s a bit different than other Olympic sports where you enter these international competitions, win spots for your country and then it’s up to the national federation to choose a national team. That’s not how skateboarding is working.

It’s really coming down to where your international rank is come June 2020. In June of 2020, if you’re the top Canadian skater in the world that fits in the top ranking of global skaters, you will be representing Canada. Canada has up to 3 spots in all of the disciplines and genders. There will be street skating and park skating, which will be similar to the Street League and the Vans Park Series respectively, and each will have men’s and women’s contests. It’s up to the Canadian skateboarders to be high enough on the international ranking to actually fill those quotas.

And to get a ranking, you need to be skating contests like Street League and the Park Series, is that right?

Yeah. Actually, it just started two weeks ago in China with the park World Championships. You’ll start to see a change in contests over the next 18 months where the Street Leagues will be longer events. They’ll be 3 days, and there will be more opportunity for skaters from all over to get international ranking.

Each country has to hold their own national competitions and rankings. In September, we partnered with Ams Getting Paid to get our ranking list started. From there, we can start helping our skaters get to the international events so they can get international rankings.

Similar to how there are Olympic sanctioned facilities for hockey, swimming, running, etc. are we going to start seeing Olympic skateboarding facilities popping up across Canada too?

One of the first things we did was create a 5, 10 and 15 year strategic plan, and a park facility is certainly apart of it. The way I like to look at it, for example, is with curling rinks.

Every small town has a curling rink and it took a long time for Curling Canada to make that happen. With the stats that we see from cities like Toronto and Calgary, there’s more young people skateboarding than curling. It’s pretty easy math for us to prove that this is a need, and that’s a focus for us.

I do want to say that the Canadian park skateboarders just got back from China and we got the royal treatment over there. We got to tour the government training facilities in Nanjing. It was really cool to see. They had a full on massive indoor, cement, street and park course for their team to train on, as well as an outdoor street course that was tented. It was really cool to see the potential opportunities that we could do in Canada.

I know everyone involved with Canada Skateboard truly loves skateboarding and has the best intentions for this program, but what’s to stop things from getting really kooky due to external pressure or rules? Is that a concern for you?

Yes. I lose sleep over it. Starting the governing body for skateboarding in Canada, we’re trying not to make the wrong moves, every step of the way. We make sure that we keep skateboarders involved with every decision and everything that we do.

From the little things like having an ex-pro build our National Championship trophies to having a skateboarder on our  legal team, it’s important we keep voting in skateboarders to make the decisions. I think that’s the safest way not to kook it.

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What are uniforms going to be like? Are we going to see red, white and spandex?

(Laughs) We need to have apparel but it’s up to Canada Skateboard to decide what we’re going to do for the Olympics. We can’t have skaters wearing whatever they want due to the big, corporate sports deals the Olympics have. That being said, they don’t have to be leotard suits that I see everyone making fun of online.

From what I just saw in Nanjing, some countries like China, Turkey and India might go in that direction. But I know the bigger skate nations  like the U.S. and Brazil are going to have a brand making specific clothing for the ‘Games. They’re going to have multiple looks and options so the team doesn’t walk out wearing matching uniforms.

We know skaters are not the most sober, drug-free types. How soon does drug testing happen before competing? Are we going to see people suspended for smoking weed, especially now that it’s legal in Canada?

Weed is legal in Canada but it’s a banned substance on the World Anti-Doping list. All the skateboarders that are at the international level are in the national athlete pool and to be a member of that, you have to follow certain protocol. All the guys competing in Street League and Park Series have gone through the training they need for Canadian Anti-Doping and they know what they can and cannot have in their systems at certain points throughout the year.

When it comes to certain drugs like weed, you can have it in your system when you randomly get tested throughout the year, you just can’t pass a certain threshold while you’re in contest.

Throwing a huge group of skaters into a multi-sport game 18 months from now, we’re bound to have an international incident (laughs). I don’t know what it’s going to be but I don’t suspect it will be a drug infraction on the Canadian side.

There are some guys that have opted out of the Olympics because they have weed sponsors or just love smoking weed. Not so much on the Canadian side, but that’s skateboarding. The Olympics are just a small part of what we’re doing with Canada Skateboard. There’s so many other cool facets to the organization and we’re not forcing people to go the competitive route. Guys like Sascha Daley and Spencer Hamilton do so much for Canadian skateboarding in their own way by traveling and being good ambassadors. We’re not trying to force anyone to become Olympians.

Who are some of the people we can expect to see skate for Team Canada in the Olympics?

It’s all up to where we’re at this time next year but here are some people to keep an eye out for. On the women’s street side, Breana Geering, Una Farrar and Annie Guglia have been shredding for a while now. For the men’s park, there’s sort of the usual suspects there. Riley Boland, Adam Hopkins, James Clarke and Andy Anderson.

Then you have the current Street League guys like TJ Rogers, Mickey Papa, Ryan Decenzo and Matt Berger. Just underneath them you’ve got guys like Jayden Bono, JS Lapierre and Michael Ray.

How will the national and global qualifying competitions work? Is it through competitions already in place like Street League and the Vans Park Series?

Street League signed a deal with World Skate to do the international qualifiers and if it doesn’t end up being the Park Series, it will be something similar. There will also be continental championships so there’ll be a North American championship for street and park.

On the national level, it’ll be similar to what we did at Ams Getting Paid this year but there will be both park and street for 2019. We’ll be throwing least one, likely two more national contests before Tokyo.

You were just at the World Skateboarding competition in Nanjing, China but what the hell is the World Skateboarding Organization? When was this created, where did it come from?

World Skate is the international federation for skateboarding, the way that the IIHF is the international federation for hockey. There needs to be an official body for every sport that talks to the IOC and the other massive sport organizations. They’re the people who deal with all the details pertaining to skating in the Olympics and act as the governing body for it.

It was originally called the International Skateboarding Federation and they had been around since 2005. With the sheer volume of work that has to be done in the small amount of time before the summer games, they collaborated with Roller Sport, which was an existing federation that’s been around for almost 100 years and they actually rebranded themselves as World Skate. So there’s a skateboarding section of World Skate that focuses completely on skateboarding.

Did you see anything shocking at the Nanjing competition as far as organization or talent went?

It didn’t feel any different than the Park Series in Malmo, Sweden other than the fact that there were smaller skate countries like India, Philippines and Turkey representing, so that interesting.

The Chinese government threw an opening ceremony complete with fireworks and the ‘Eye of the Tiger’ soundtrack and as you can imagine, it was a little weird for skateboarders. It was hilarious. For all of us on the deck, we were loving it half sarcastically but it was also kind of cool to be apart of.

There was also a weird sense of national pride that came over everybody while we were there. We were actually representing countries for the first time ever. To see the Brazilians rocking the flag and Team India and Turkey with their country uniforms, it felt kind of cool.

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How will countries get picked to participate in the Tokyo ‘Games? I don’t suspect we’ll see a skater from every country around the world, especially from countries where skate culture doesn’t really exist, right?

World Skate has more members than will actually be represented in the Olympics. There’s 20 slots per event. There will be 20 women and men for the street and park respectively, so a total of 80 skaters. The host country, Japan, gets an automatic slot for each event because they’re the host nation. The Japanese are so strong in skateboarding right now.

YUTO!

Dude, Yuto (Horigome) won the London Street League this year. Daisuke Ikeda just won Tampa Am and in Nanjing the women’s park champion was Sakura Yosozumi, a Japanese girl. Then, for women’s street is a girl named Aori Nishimura who’s 17 and is just insane. The Japanese wouldn’t really need their host nation spot because they would be in the Olympics regardless.

Then it goes down the list. World Skate has looked at premiere nations across the world for skateboarding and there’s five of them: USA, Brazil, Canada, Australia and Spain. Each one of those countries gets the max quota, which is three skaters per discipline and gender, and then it goes down the list for each country after those to fill in the top 20.

Since the Americans are the strongest in women’s park, if this quota cap didn’t exist, they would probably fill 15 of the 20 spots. But with this cap, they’ll only bring 3. It’ll take the ranking list and if Americans have the top 4 skaters, World Skate will take the top 3 as competing Olympians and then the rest will go to say, Brazilians, Australians or whoever has the top rankings below the Americans. Hopefully our top Canadians are somewhere in the top 30-40 because they should be able to make it into those slots.

I feel like the growth of skating in preparation for the Olympics has been happening rapidly, albeit quietly. What’s your perspective since you’re on the other side of it, creating this program?

Like I said, our overall goal with starting Canada Skateboard is to grow and promote skateboarding. You and I used to work together at a magazine and we saw skateboarding in Canada declining and trending in the wrong direction. With Canada Skateboard, we’re constantly trying to find ways to remedy this. Having the support of the Olympic committee and the government, we’re able to look at some of these big picture problems.

One of the main issues we see in Canadian skateboarding is that the barrier to entry is too high. 14 year old boys are the entry level for skating. They understand how to go to a skateshop, buy a board off the wall and set it up. Now, we’re trying to find answers to how we can get 8 year old girls involved in skateboarding. You see it in different countries like Brazil, Australia and the USA.

These are the problems we get to think of at a high level now. Like, how do we get parks built in underprivileged areas in Canada? How do we keep the shops open? These are problems we’re honoured to be apart of to help solve.

What’s the thing you’re most excited about working with Skateboard Canada?

When it’s all said and done and my time as president has come and gone, I’ll be able to turn the TV on and watch something that we helped start, and enjoy it as a civilian. Right now we’re in it and fighting those daily battles but it’s worth it because I know one day I’ll be on the outside looking in and be super proud where Canadian skateboarding is at.

Do you foresee the creation and training of pure skate athletes? The ones who strictly train and dominate the contest circuit as opposed to filming street parts?

I think we’re already here. And who am I to say that’s whack? I’m a 38 year old skateboarder from the West Coast who has his own opinions about what skateboarding means. That doesn’t necessarily reflect what skateboarding means to a 16 year old street skater from Montreal. I learned this working in magazines. Skateboarding means different things to different people. Some kids are going to grow up and not know who Jake Johnson is, but know who Yuto Horigome is. Who am I to say if that’s whack or not? It’s all just skateboarding.

Are we going to see any bizarre propaganda-style videos like the one that came from Team China?

Not if I have anything to do with it. Thankfully we have a very opinionated board of directors. I don’t get to make calls exclusively, it all goes through the ‘Board. It’s decision by committee so if it’s whack, it gets nixed pretty fast. We do have external parties hitting us up, wanting to make the documentary and the ‘behind the scenes’ but really, it’s not that interesting of a story.

People think it’s leotards and propaganda and whatnot, but it’s really just a bunch of guys and girls who have been involved in skateboarding for a long time trying to make the right calls and decisions for us on an international level. Yes, skateboarding is in the Olympics but it’s still going to be Pedro Barros and his dad standing on the deck. It’s still skateboarding, it’s still punk rock.

This is usually where we would insert the ‘top favourite skaters’ question, but we don’t want to cause any conflicts of interest for you. That said, we’ll have you know that we’d love to see Breana Geering, Una Farrar, Lee Yankou, Will Marshall, Zack Ferguson, Keiran Zimmerman, and Dylan Fulford take home some Olympic-size endorsements and money by any means necessary, sound good?

I’m backing all of those as much as I can. If there’s a couple I could add to the list I would(laughs). Skateboarding in Canada is so small and I’ve got a lot of love for all of them.

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