Sky Brown: Meet the 11-year-old girl set to become Britain's youngest summer Olympian

By Tom ReynoldsBBC Sport
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Sky Brown
Skateboarding will be making its first Olympic appearance at the Tokyo Games this summer

"It's so good. My mum makes curry like this. Maybe just a little less strong..."

At 11 years old, Sky Brown is getting her first taste of a British institution - chip shop curry sauce. After a quick look at the menu, eight-year-old brother Ocean opted for, and is now quietly demolishing, a sirloin steak.

In between mouthfuls the siblings are obsessing over Rubik's Cube-style puzzles, chat with the adults kept to a minimum. To the outsider, it looks like a normal Friday night family meal.

But Sky Brown is not your typical young girl. With five months to go until Tokyo 2020, she is set to become Britain's youngest ever Olympian at a summer Games.

A professional skateboarder, she has already won World Championship bronze, and at last summer's X Games became the first female ever to land a 'frontside 540'.

She has a lengthy list of sponsors, close to 500,000 followers on Instagram, and is famous in the US for winning the 2018 reality TV show Dancing with the Stars: Juniors. Keeping life ordinary is a constant challenge for parents Stu and Mieko.

And yet, time spent in her company in Aberdeen for December's Sports Personality of the Year felt no different to being around a regular kid. Tik Tok and drawing pictures on a borrowed waiter's pad were the themes of another family meal - this time a Saturday night curry (balti for Sky).

So how do you stay grounded with the world at your feet? Part of the secret comes from living a life across multiple nations - including Olympics hosts, Japan.

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Sky Brown and mum Mieko at the World Championships in Brazil
Pictured celebrating with her family after winning World Championship bronze in September, Sky Brown is a genuine GB medal contender for Tokyo

Sky's dad Stu is English, but moved to the USA in his teens. He and mum Mieko met in Japan, where Mieko was born. Their daughter was born there too - in Miyazaki, where the family still have a home. For her entire education to date, Sky has spent half the school year in Japan and half in the US. It's quite the contrast.

"School in Japan is strict," says Brown - who alongside her classmates is regularly expected to help clean the whole school (including the toilets).

"We have snack time in America but we don't have that in Japan. We don't even choose our food in Japanese school. They put it on our plate and we have to eat the whole thing. If you leave anything on the plate then you can't go outside. The teacher doesn't want us to talk while we're eating." She laughs. "I feel like that's what makes me eat a lot."

Luckily, eating Japanese food is never a bind. Sky's perfect way to start the day is with the Japanese delicacy tamago kake gohan - hot rice, raw egg and soy sauce. "It sounds gross but it's sooo good."

As a rule, her days actually get going long before breakfast is served. "I usually get up at four or five and then go and get everyone else up then get my wetsuit and my bag ready," she says.

"Then we check the waves on a web camera, see which beach is good and then we go surfing for a few hours. From there we'll head to school. Then when we finish at school I'll either have guitar lessons or do jiu jitsu before heading either to the beach if the waves are good or the skate park if not."

If it's all sounding a little bit 'Tiger Mum', listening to father Stu you understand the reality is anything but. Her guitar lessons are not spent chasing grades, rather just learning songs she likes.

"Do you know Hey Jude?" she asks. "And Perfect from Ed Sheeran. They're both British right? I just realised that."

Sky Brown
Sky Brown splits her school year between the US and Japan - and has noticed big differences

Sky has never had a skateboarding coach - "I just learn tricks off YouTube" - and afternoons at the skate park near her US home in Huntingdon Beach, south of Los Angeles, are never formal. Sometimes they are spent in the company of three-time Olympic gold medallist Shaun White, who lives close by.

"Her friends are all there so it's more like just playing with them," dad Stu says. "It's not serious. It's not 'going to training'."

The relaxed attitude is what convinced her to choose to represent Team GB rather than Japan. In fact, if it wasn't for the laid-back approach of Skateboard GB chair Lucy Adams, Sky wouldn't be heading for Tokyo 2020 at all.

"It's a tough one but I don't think we would be going if it wasn't in Japan," Stu says. "We wouldn't have had it on our radar from Japan asking her to be on their team. To be honest if it hadn't been for Lucy.... we were adamant we weren't going to let Sky do it."

Sky Brown: Skating towards Tokyo 2020

Allowing their daughter to make her own decisions while also maintaining parental control is clearly a tough balancing act. It was ultimately Sky's decision to compete on a reality TV show. But in the aftermath of her victory her parents put their foot down and insisted she retreat back to their sleepy surf town in Japan for two months, rather than doing the full US media tour that includes appearances on programmes like The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Keeping life fun is the number one priority. It's clearly working. Despite two long days of filming and family meals there is not even a whiff of a tantrum or a falling out between the Brown siblings. When kid brother Ocean inadvertently throws a basketball into Sky's face, she shrugs it off with a smile.

The fact that the days featured plenty of skating (including a SPOTY stunt and a chat with Gary Lineker) probably explains that. "I just feel free and happy," she says, asked to explain her feelings when skating and surfing.

Inspiring others, particularly in Japan, is also a motivation. Sky - the only girl on her Japanese school football team - is already very aware of how different life is for her school friends in the US and those in Japan. Her American friends are among her followers on social media and will stay in contact when she is away. Her Japanese friends are not allowed phones so she only hears from them when their parents message one another.

"I think sometimes [my Japanese friends] are scared to do what boys are doing but why should the boys have all the fun?" she says. "It's sad definitely because I feel like they are not having any fun."

Not all of them. Sky picks up the story of her friend, Kako Yoshida.

"She was really afraid of skating and surfing or even just playing in the ocean," she says. "We were like 'come out, come out' but she didn't really surf because she was scared. She eventually started surfing and then we told her to come to the skate park. She was really scared but she really changed a lot. She got braver and now she's surfing really good and skating pretty good too."

Pretty good is an understatement. Yoshida is about to turn pro as a surfer.

Sky Brown smiling as she holds a union flag
Sky will be 12 years and 12 days old when the Games open in Tokyo. Cecilia Colledge is Britain's youngest ever Olympian - she was 11 years and 73 days old when she competed in the women's single skating competition at the 1932 Winter Olympics.

Professional sport has long since been Sky's domain - she became the youngest girl ever to compete in the Vans US Open Pro Series in September 2016, aged eight.

Just three years later she won bronze at September's senior World Championships in Brazil - a performance that marks her out as a genuine GB medal contender.

Qualifying for Tokyo is not yet completed - spots will be decided based on performances at the next World Championships in May, and the world skateboarding rankings - but Sky is all but assured of a place. She is already a marked woman among her peers.

In the early days of competition, her rivals would give her piggy backs and say how cute she was. "Then when she started to beat them they wouldn't even say hi to her," Stu says.

She could make herself even more unpopular in Tokyo. She casually throws into our chat in Aberdeen that she has more complex tricks she's saving for the Olympics.

Does Sky sense that jealousy? "Yeah. They are all very competitive," she says.

And is she?

"If I make my good tricks and my best run I will be happy with what place I get," she says. "I don't really know much [about the Olympics] - I just think it's going be really cool that a lot of people are going to watch it and all the girls are going to go hard and do their tricks.

"I'm excited to skate with the girls. Other than that, in 2020 I am going to carry on skating, go to school, surfing and doing my normal life."


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