Singapore should embrace street sports: Neil Humphreys
Skateboarding medallists show a pathway in a dense city
If the Olympics offer role models for the next generation, then Singapore has been presented with a real gem.
But she isn't Singaporean.
She's Sky Brown. She's a British-Japanese teenager living in the United States and has handed Singapore a template for success, an obvious shot at Olympic glory that's cost-effective.
But she's a skateboarder, a bronze medal-winning skateboarder, but a skateboarder nonetheless.
The Olympics are moving with the times. Singapore might want to keep up.
Street sports, such as skateboarding and 3x3 basketball, are the organisers' attempt to attract younger audiences to the most traditional of competitions. And what's wrong with that?
Previous generations enjoyed the sedate pace of five-day cricket. Today, five-second ads on YouTube feel excessive. Times change. Interests evolve.
And Brown has laid down an Olympic pathway that is not only obvious, it also should not be too hard to follow.
She self-trained her way to a bronze medal at the age of 13. Her coaching initially consisted of learning from her skateboarding father and watching YouTube clips.
Kokona Hiraki won the silver medal. She's 12. When Joseph Schooling touched the wall first in Rio de Janeiro five years ago, Hiraki was getting to grips with Primary 1. She's the youngest Olympic medallist in 85 years.
The women's park skateboarding winner is a veritable old-timer. Sakura Yosozumi is 19.
Yosozumi and Hiraki are both Japanese. Brown grew up in Japan. All three benefited from living in an Asian cityscape with ready-made infrastructure.
Many of them spent countless hours practising at skate parks.
In the case of Funa Nakayama, bronze medallist of the women's street event, that was not enough.
The 16-year-old could be found practising with friends in a nearby parking lot when the park closed.
We have skate parks too, but would that be enough for us to reach a critical mass for the sport?
Singapore is already built for skateboarding - and 3x3 basketball, for that matter - but requires a cultural shift first.
Would large numbers of developing skateboarders be welcomed on the street corners of our dense metropolis?
The safety aspects must be addressed, obviously, but there is something else, too.
FALL AND FALL
To get better, they must fall, repeatedly. Falling makes noise in public spaces. Our track record in this department is patchy at best.
A football academy was once chastised for playing matches too close to Housing Board blocks. Who wants clattering skateboarders on their doorstep?
And there's also the risk, a jaw-dropping, chest-thumping level of braggadocio that is practically beyond our air-conditioned comprehension.
In May 2020, Brown fell off a ramp, broke her hand and wrist and fractured her skull. She was 11 years old at the time. And yet, astonishingly, quitting was never an option.
She ended up on the Olympic podium 15 months later, practically cajoling other young women to do likewise.
Take risks. Do what you love. Go your own way.
With a bit of luck, her peers in Singapore might heed her advice.
Street sports are a terrific social leveller, perhaps a reason why certain folks scoffed at their inclusion at Tokyo 2020.
Sailing, swimming, tennis and equestrian are all magnificent sports, but the equipment, training and space required may be out of reach for many Singaporeans.
A skateboard can be 50 bucks and a helmet at half the price. The pavement comes free with every purchase.
When the Singapore National Olympic Council conducts its Tokyo 2020 review, a risk and reward assessment must acknowledge the changing landscape and the welcome inclusion of more equitable street sports.
Traditionally, it took a village to raise an Olympic champion. It took some YouTube videos and astounding bravery to put Brown on the medal podium.
Maybe there are lessons that a city like Singapore could take home. The infrastructure is already in place.
In this instance, a future Olympian really could be found on every street corner.