Athletes ready to skate, battle and roll

China Daily| May 15, 2024

Shanghai will showcase four all-action sports, as the inaugural Olympic Qualifier Series kicks off on May 16. The four-day event will thrill fans with a combination of adrenaline-pumping competition, culture, art and music. The series will conclude with a final leg in Budapest in June to decide the final points tally — and who gets a golden ticket to Paris, Sun Xiaochen reports.

A fun pastime and trendy commuting choice almost everywhere around the world, skateboarding's popularity has exploded in Asia since its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, with millions of participants and fans drawn to the awe-inspiring ability of athletes in the discipline to flip, spin and grind across ramps, rails and courses in both street and park settings, and at high-level competitions.

The Olympic qualifier in Shanghai will bring the world's finest skateboarders to one of China's most dynamic, fashion-conscious and international urban audiences. They will undoubtedly be "oohed" and "aahed" by the city's cool kids, who will surely gather in their droves to watch the skaters show off their slickest of tricks.

Unlike other events, where some of the quota of Olympic places for Paris 2024 will be directly up for grabs at the qualifiers, the total 80 places for skateboarding will be decided by the Olympic World Skateboarding Ranking by June 24, with performances at the Shanghai and Budapest qualifiers contributing heavily to the final rankings.

The street discipline will see a close battle in Shanghai, with a noticeable power shift reshaping the sport's landscape since qualification began in 2022.

Men's reigning world champion Aurelien Giraud of France and Japanese star Shirai Sora, who both had disappointing campaigns at Tokyo 2020, have come back with a vengeance, while newcomers such as Oda Yumeka, Japan's defending women's world champion, and Australian prodigy Chloe Covell are primed to make their presence felt in Shanghai.

Led by teen sensations Cui Chenxi (15) and Zeng Wenhui (19), the host is preparing a competitive women's street team of five riders to vie with their more accomplished international rivals for the points that will get them to Paris.

In the other three events — women's park and men's street and park — Chinese riders remain far from world class, as they embrace this home qualifier as a learning curve for the future.

Format: freestyle: street, park

Number of athletes: 176

As the newest Olympic sport, and one where art meets athleticism, breaking involves athletes — known as b-boys and b-girls — flipping, spinning and pulling out body-bending gymnastic moves to the beat of hiphop music in one-on-one dance battles.

A judging panel scores the dancers' routines for technique, trick execution, style, originality and, more importantly, synchronization with the soundtrack.

The qualifier series' Shanghai leg will witness a fierce battle for historic entries to Paris, where breaking will take place as an official medal event for the first time since being demonstrated at the 2018 Youth Olympics.

Current men's world No 1 b-boy Kim Heon-woo of South Korea will be one of the biggest stars to watch in Shanghai, alongside Japanese pair Isshin Hishikawa and Hiroto Ono, who are both vying for the one spot left for Japan, with their compatriot Nakarai Shigeyuki already qualifying by winning gold at last year's Hangzhou Asian Games.

On the women's side, Japan's 2021 world champion Ayumi Fukushima, who will be 41 by the time the Paris Games roll around, will battle it out with her compatriots, current world No 1 Ami Yuasa and No 4 Riko Tsuhako, for one of the Japanese places available. Each National Olympic Committee gets two.

As an emerging force in breaking, Chinese dancers, especially b-girls, have gradually made names for themselves on the center stage, with world elite star Liu Qingyi (b-girl 671) having already snatched up an Olympic ticket as Asian Games winner. Her fellow countrywomen Zeng Yingying and Zheng Ziyan will join the Shanghai showcase to measure themselves up against the world's best.

A three-month winter training program has helped prepare Chinese breakers to be 100 percent ready, physically and mentally, for the home qualifier, according to Yin Guochen, president of China Dancesport Federation.

Team captain Shang Xiaoyu, aka b-boy X-Rain, is embracing the qualifier as an invaluable tuneup for him to reach his goals in Paris.

"With many rounds to go at the qualifier series, it will be a great test of our stamina, technique and mental strength. I will try to open the series in Shanghai with flying colors and clinch a ticket to Paris," said the 2018 Youth Olympian.

Formats: B-Boy, B-Girl

Total quota of available spots: 14

Number of athletes: 80

The sheer embodiment of strength, agility and courage, sport climbing has been gaining traction in recent years, not just among extreme outdoor lovers, but also urban fitness enthusiasts, thanks to its Olympic inclusion.

The Paris Games will double the medals on offer for both the men and women by crowning one champion in boulder and lead combined, and awarding another medal in the speed discipline, unlike at the sport's Olympic debut in Tokyo, where only men's and women's all-around champions were crowned after competing in all three disciplines.

The separation of the speed event from the other two, more technical, disciplines suits China's Olympic ambition well, with most of the country's top climbers excelling in the speed race, where athletes scale a 15-meter-high wall against the clock in one-on-one elimination rounds.

"Speed being isolated as a medal event on its own was good news for us, because this is where we traditionally excel, especially on the men's side," said Wang Yunlong, manager of China's sport climbing team, after a recent training session.

Already having three athletes — Long Jinbao and Deng Lijuan in speed and Zhang Yuetong in boulder and lead combined — securing direct Olympic berths via last year's world championships and continental qualification events, Team China is going all out trying to rack up enough points at the series' home leg in Shanghai, and at the final stop in Budapest next month, to earn full qualification quotas in speed — two women and two men — and at least three in the combined discipline, according to Wang.

International climbers, such as former men's world record holder Veddriq Leonardo of Indonesia, and his female compatriot, Rajiah Sallsabillah, 2023 Asian Games bronze medalist, are expected to challenge the host's best in the speed event.

In boulder and lead combined, where athletes jump, pull and swing their way up nearly impossible-to-fathom overhangs, world-class masters, including reigning men's Olympic champion Alberto Gines Lopez of Spain and women's Olympic silver medalist Miho Nonaka of Japan, have all signed up to the Shanghai leg with an eye on stamping their Olympic tickets.

Formats: boulder & lead, speed

Total quota of available spots: 30

Number of athletes: 160

It's safe to say that a BMX freestyle run offers the most action per minute at the Olympic Games — it's 60 seconds packed with wheel spins, flips, tail whips and riders flying across ramps, jumps, and more.

And it's even safer to say that the Huangpu Riverside provides one of the world's most ideal stages for competing in, and enjoying, the extreme sport, known as BMX — short for "bicycle motocross".

Built against the backdrop of an iconic cityscape and close to an urban audience, The Shanghai park provides all the jumps, ramps and rails, and the optimal conditions, to compete.

A total of 48 freestyle riders, 24 women and 24 men, will be contesting for 12 direct Olympic qualification spots — six on each side — for Paris, where the adrenaline-pumping competition will take place in front of a live audience at the Games for the first time.

Defending men's and women's Olympic champions, Australia's Logan Martin and Britain's Charlotte Worthington, as well as Tokyo 2020 men's runner-up Daniel Dhers of Venezuela, United States' five-time world champion Hannah Roberts and Tokyo 2020 women's bronze medalist Nikita Ducarroz of Switzerland, are among the glittering list of riders to descend on Shanghai.

Although having not nurtured mature enough riders to make to the Olympic qualifiers, China's emerging freestyle BMX community is stoked for an opportunity to get close-up to, and learn from, the world's best at home, said Shen Jian, an eight-time Chinese BMX national championship winner.

Format: freestyle

Total quota of available spots: 12

Number of athletes: 48

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