Olympic misfits or sleeping giant? Skateboarders eye Tokyo 2020

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'It's my passion' - skateboarding

In two years' time skateboarding will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

Once seen as counterculture and to some a form of anti-social behaviour, it will be thrust into the international spotlight on the biggest of multi-sport stages.

Added along with surfing, climbing and baseball for the Games in Japan, competitors will vie for medals in street and park disciplines.

For the uninitiated, that means performing tricks on stairs, handrails, curbs, benches, walls and slopes, or skating around a huge concrete bowl to gain enough height to execute stunts mid-air.

"Skateboarders are split," Jamie Blair, owner of Clan Skates in Glasgow, told BBC Scotland of the Olympic addition.

"Some people think it's a horrific idea, completely the opposite of what skateboarding is, and others think it will get facilities built and the 'real' skateboarding will still exist.

"Skateboarding has always attracted the misfits, and for want of a better word, the freaks, the people who don't really fit in.

"But there's always been the traditional sporty parts of skateboarding - slalom and downhill racing - and there have been pretty technical skateboarding competitions where people have won money and medals, so it's an extension of that really."

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Blair, who has been skating and surfing since the 1970s, believes Olympic recognition reflects how perceptions have changed.

"There was a time in Scotland where there was literally one skate park in Livingston and that's where skateboarding survived," he said.

"There were skate parks all over in the 70s but they gradually got filled in and disappeared and skateboarding itself slowed down."

Ali Menzies, chair of Skateboarding Scotland, admits while the sport has become more accepted by society, he has mixed emotions about its Olympic inclusion.

"When I first started as a kid I was kind of outcast to a certain extent," Menzies said. "There weren't many of you and you were chased on by police.

"When I left school I wouldn't tell my employer I skated but now I'm proud to have on my CV, chair of Skateboarding Scotland.

"Competitions and massive organised events isn't really what it's all about. It's more about having fun and challenging yourself - uniforms and team sports is not skateboarding.

"However, if it's done properly it might be interesting."

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The idea of national colours, strict rules and drug testing goes against the rebellious grain of many a skateboarder.

But both Blair and Menzies agree its Olympic presence may ignite interest in a new generation.

"There has always been a group of kids and skaters that want to compete," explained Menzies.

"We have seen an increase in the number of facilities getting built across Scotland in recent years, however this has been related to councils becoming aware about the benefits and value for money that skate parks bring to local communities.

"A small investment and very little maintenance creating great opportunities for kids to keep busy, have fun and keep fit.

"SportScotland are certainly very supportive of Skateboard Scotland and skateboarding in general, however budgets are limited and we are still an unfunded governing body."

So could investment to capture any excitement generated by Tokyo 2020 produce a future Scottish Olympian?

"No reason why not," said Blair.

"There's been a few skateboarders who have taken the sport in Scotland to the world stage, like John Rattray, who's still out in the States, who was pro for many years and created a big impact, and Stu Graham did much the same thing.

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"Generally skateboarding is viewed as a kind of American thing but there's the occasional European that breaks through to the top - maybe a kid would see the Olympics and an athlete and say, 'I want to do that'.

"Who is to say it's not going to happen, especially when there's so many facilities getting built.

"Girls' skateboarding is on the up too, in a lot of countries girls are eyeing the Olympics as the perfect vehicle for success."