Hiraki, 12, becomes Olympics’ youngest medallist since 1936
Japanese skateboarder Kokona Hiraki, 12, became the Olympics' youngest medallist in 85 years yesterday when she clinched silver in the women's park event.
The gold went to her compatriot Sakura Yosozumi, 19, as the hosts maintained their stranglehold on the sport that is making its Olympic debut. Britain's Sky Brown, 13, took the bronze.
At 12 years and 343 days, Hiraki achieved the rare feat of winning an Olympic medal before her 13th birthday - the first to do so since French rower Noel Vandernotte in 1936.
Her score of 59.04 points was nearly enough for her to become the Games' youngest gold medallist in history - a record held by American diver Marjorie Gestring, who won the springboard gold aged 13 years and 267 days at the 1936 Games in Berlin.
But Yosozumi, who opened her routine with a flowing run featuring two 540s, scored 60.09 to clinch the title.
Describing her win as "unreal", Yosozumi said: "I hope skateboarding is going to be very popular in Japan because of the strong performances of the Japanese team."
Japan-born Brown, who became Britain's youngest Olympic medallist, threatened to snatch a dramatic win with a flawless closing routine but she was awarded 56.47 points to take bronze.
Yet just 15 months ago, it was looking grim as Brown suffered skull fractures and a broken wrist and hand when she fell from a ramp and plunged into the gap between two half-pipes, landing on her head.
Brown, who said the helmet saved her life, was urged to give up the sport.
"I didn't know if I would skate, really. My parents were saying, 'Don't skate, do something else,'" said Brown, who was born to a Japanese mother and a British father.
"But I'm so happy to be here. I honestly feel like the accident made me stronger."
Japan also snapped up the men's and women's street titles and they have bagged five of the nine medals so far. The winner of the women's street event, Momiji Nishiya, is also 13.
Yesterday, there was heartbreak for another Japanese - world No. 1 Misugu Okamoto - who missed a medal when she fell on all three runs in the final to finish fourth.
After Okamoto, 15, picked herself up and walked out of the bowl wiping away tears, other skaters lifted her onto their shoulders to celebrate her runs.
"We all just really love skateboarding," Yosozumi said. - AFP, REUTERS