Brighton Zeuner, 13, already an Olympic skateboarding medal threat

Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images
0 Comments

Her name is hard to forget. Her accolades, at age 13, are already worth remembering.

Brighton Zeuner is one of the early medal favorites for skateboarding’s Olympic debut in 2020.

There will be two disciplines in Tokyo — park and street — and Zeuner is an established force in the former. Park takes place in a dome-shaped bowl with a variety of transitions, jumps and complex curves.

“I’m not going to be mad if I don’t win [the Olympics],” Zeuner said in a phone interview ahead of competing at Dew Tour in Long Beach, Calif., on Sunday. “Being there in general is a huge accomplishment.”

NBC will air Dew Tour coverage July 7-8.

Zeuner, with 125,000 Instagram followers and blonde hair streaming as far as her kidneys, is promoted as a headliner for good reason.

In 2016, she became the youngest woman to compete at an X Games at 11. Then she won the inaugural Vans Park Series world title. In 2017, she became the youngest X Games champion.

Credit her childhood backyard. A large vert ramp was installed behind the family pool, palm trees and a sign reading “No scooters allowed.” Not only did Zeuner and older brother Jack hone their skills there, but folks from the area also stopped by for sessions and the occasional refueling dinner.

When your neighborhood is Encinitas, Calif., the locals include skateboarding gods.

“The kind of the crew that she runs with — Steve Caballero, Tony Hawk, Mike McGill,” Dew Tour announcer Chris Cote said. “She runs with these classic, legendary skaters. You see the translation that she has been soaking up all this knowledge from them.”

Hawk visited the Zeuner home a few times, including for the last session before she recently moved.

“I think he asked [to come] because he was filming,” Zeuner said, “We were like, of course you can. I was fanning out.”

Zeuner says everything started happening for her at age 8. At a small contest in Arizona, she finished third out of four girls (the others all older, “big sisters,” she said) and landed her first sponsor, the Original Betty Skateboard Company. She later beat her brother in a contest, though Jack was already phasing out of competition and into filming.

More recently, she skated at X Games in braces and a Red Bull helmet, has been featured on “Nightline” and in The New York Times and is up for Queen of Swag, a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award. The other nominees are Ibtihaj Muhammad, Jamie Anderson, Michelle Wie, Serena Williams, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Sydney Leroux.

Zeuner said life’s biggest obstacle wasn’t the time she faceplanted and had to dislodge her lip from her braces. Rather, it has been a three-year struggle to land a 540, thus far unsuccessful.

“It’s definitely an annoying trick that I’m mad about,” she said. 

It might be necessary at the Olympics.

Zeuner faces competition both older — 25-year-old Nora Vasconcellos of Massachusetts — and a batch of early teens — notably fellow 13-year-old Sabre Norris of “Ellen” fame. Norris’ dad is Justin Norris, who beat Michael Phelps to a bronze medal in Phelps’ first Olympic race, the Sydney 2000 200m butterfly.

“The top 10 is constantly in flux,” Cote said. “They all kind of take turns for who’s the best on any given day.”

Norris landed a 540 two weeks ago to qualify for July’s X Games, where she will face Zeuner.

“If I be real about it I know my odds for success are kinda crap,” was posted on Norris’ Instagram. “I have zero experience, chiari malformation, I’m a surfer not a skater and I get so badly homesick I can’t eat.”

Zeuner refused to single out a rival but thrives in competition. Cote called her “Terminator.” To battle boredom, Zeuner writes song lyrics (“jazzy beats,” specifically), designs clothes and shoes and listens to Tyler, the Creator and Kali Uchis.

“Their lyrics are more than a song,” Zeuner said. “It’s a story.”

Zeuner already has one of her own.

NBC Olympics researcher Rachel Thompson contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: French World Cup star eyes 2024 Paris Olympics

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
Getty
0 Comments

Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
Getty
0 Comments

Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”