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Pro Skateboarder Jake Ilardi On Going From Sarasota To Tokyo As Skateboarding Makes Olympic Debut

Jake Ilardi of the United States competes in the Street Skateboarding World Championships finals, a qualifying event for Tokyo Olympic Games, in Rome on June 6, 2021. (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)
Jake Ilardi of the United States competes in the Street Skateboarding World Championships finals, a qualifying event for Tokyo Olympic Games, in Rome on June 6, 2021. (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)


Pro skateboarder Jake Ilardi is grinding his way into sports history.

Hailing from Sarasota, Florida, Ilardi will be part of the first U.S. Olympic skateboarding team that’s heading to the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

“I’m just honored to represent the United States of America and especially skateboarding,” Ilardi says, “because I’ve been doing it all my life and it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.”

For his fourth birthday, Ilardi and his twin brother, Nate Ilardi, were gifted skateboards from their grandmother.

The duo would start off in their driveway, moving their boards with their hands and knees. Eventually, they stood up on the boards and attempted ollies and kickflips — and it all snowballed from there.

As a kid, Ilardi says he only wanted to have fun with skateboarding and dreamed of becoming a pro skater. Participating in the Olympics wasn’t even a thought for him.

But he almost didn’t make the team. An injury impacted his performance at a competition in Iowa. And while competing in Rome, he landed the third spot, a close call since only the top three skateboarders could move forward.

In spite of those obstacles, Ilardi is heading to Tokyo.

Skating is new to the Olympic scene and controversy arrived alongside it. Members of the skateboarding community are debating what the inclusion of skateboarding in the Olympics means.

But Ilardi says he’s not bothered by skateboarding potentially becoming more mainstream.

“There’s always going to be ups and downs and additions to stuff or new experiences,” he says. “And people have their opinions on it that are good, and people have their opinions on it that are bad.”

Skateboarding differs from other sports like baseball or basketball. While those sports involve more uniformity, there’s a level of self-expression when it comes to skateboarding. Ilardi says for instance, three skateboarders who placed in the top three in Rome could have different skating styles.

Ilardi will be in the street skateboarding section for the Olympics. He will compete against 20 other top skateboarders, which will then be whittled down to the top eight. The players will receive two 45 second runs to go through the course, followed by five trick attempts. The judges will drop the highest and lowest scores from the tricks and runs, then average the remaining three scores.

For street racing, there will be a mix of stairs, rails and handrails on the course. While other skaters may stop once they finish a trick and restart, Ilardi tries to link his tricks back to back in the 45-second run and finish strong.

Photos of the course are usually posted for skateboarders to view, and Ilardi says he tries to plan it out before he arrives. The skateboarders are given five days to practice, which Ilardi says is enough time to prepare. If it doesn’t work out how he planned, he makes it up.

While breaking a bone can be the norm for skateboarders, Ilardi hasn’t broken any, adding he knows his limits and doesn’t try to exceed them.

Still, he’s seen his share of injuries. Stitches, staples, nerve damage and sprained ankles are just a few.

With skateboarding coming to an international stage in just a few short months, Ilardi says it opens the door to more opportunities — both for him and other aspiring skateboarders.

He’s trying to get another skatepark in his hometown, an effort that might gain more attention now that he’s a professional skateboarder and Olympian. There’s also the potential for deals and sponsorships.

“For skateboarding itself, more skaters are going to be born from this,” Ilardi says. “That’s definitely going to happen. I know for sure.”

Watch on YouTube.

Alexander Tuerk produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Jill Ryan. Jeannette Muhammad adapted this interview for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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