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Huston, Zeuner, Schaar head first U.S. skateboarding team

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VISTA, Calif. — There’s always been a rebelliousness and a bit of an attitude to skateboarding, and now there’s credibility.

That’s what being added to the Olympics will do for a sport, and that was the vibe when USA Skateboarding announced its first-ever national team of eight men and eight women, including stars Nyjah Huston, Brighton Zeuner and Tom Schaar.

“I think that skateboarding is fully legitimate,” Josh Friedberg, CEO of USA Skateboarding said Tuesday, when the national team was introduced at the CA Training Facility, which has a street course on the ground floor and a park course on the second floor of a warehouse in an industrial park in this northern San Diego County city. “Skateboarding grew up outside of the Olympic structure. It’s a lifestyle, it’s a culture, it’s about finding freedom of expression. All these things are why the IOC wanted skateboarding in the Olympic Games in the first place.

“Olympic inclusion is a historic moment for any sport,” Friedberg added. “The U.S. is where skateboarding came from. The chance to name the first USA skateboarding national team today and share that with the world and celebrate these skaters for their abilities and help them along their path to qualifying for the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020, we couldn’t be more excited. It’s an incredible, historic moment in the history of skateboarding.”

The 16 skaters qualified for the national team based on their performances in international-level events during the previous year and will receive support from USA Skateboarding while they attempt to qualify for the 2020 Games. Skaters will have the opportunity to qualify for the Olympics based on their three best results in World Skate sanctioned events during the 2019 qualifying season, combined with their six best results during the 2020 qualifying season. A maximum of 12 American athletes can qualify for the Olympics. Skaters not on the national team can qualify on their own merit.

The disciplines are street and park.

Huston, of Laguna Beach, who has dominated Street League Skateboarding, is joined by fellow street skaters Chris Joslin of Hawaiian Gardens, Jagger Eaton of Mesa, Arizona, and Louie Lopez of Hawthorne. Schaar, of Encinitas, the first skater to land a 1080, is joined by fellow park skaters Alex Sorgente of Lake Worth, Florida, Tristan Rennie of Rialto and Zion Wright of Jupiter, Florida.

Huston, 24, was the first skater to win $1 million in contest prize money, and has won a lot more since then.

“I’m obviously happy it’s in here at this time and I’m like honored to be able to have a chance to skate the first one, but if it was me, I would have thought it would have been in at least one or two Olympics ago, just because there are so many kids out there skating such a diverse sport, all around the world kids are doing it,” Huston said. “But at least it’s in there now.”

Huston likes his chance to make the Olympic team, which will be announced in May 2020.

“I feel like I’m in a good place and I’m definitely confident to be there supporting my country,” he said. “Obviously there’s only one goal, and that’s to win. No matter if it’s the Olympics or any other contest I’m normally skating, I’m always there to do my best to win.”

Zeuner, 14, of Encinitas, is the youngest gold medalist in X Games history. She skates park, along with Bryce Wettstein of Encinitas, Jordyn Barratt of Haleiwa, Hawaii, and Nicole Hause of Stillwater, Minnesota. The women’s street skaters are Alexis Sablone of Old Saybrook, Connecticut; Jenn Soto of Jersey City, New Jersey; Lacey Baker of Covina and Mariah Duran of Albuquerque.

“Now it’s like perfect timing for everyone to be a part of the whole Olympic thing,” Zeuner said. “We used to compete in little contests so I think it’s great experience and opportunity to be part of it.

Snowboarding superstar Shaun White, a three-time Olympic halfpipe gold medalist, has expressed interest in skating in the Summer Games.

“Shaun’s a real interesting case,” Friedberg said. “He’s an amazing skateboarder; obviously he’s an even more amazing snowboarder. He’s expressed interest to compete in skateboarding in Tokyo. I know he’s been practicing and skating a lot more on that mission right now,” said Friedberg. “The park discipline doesn’t necessarily line up with his strength in skateboarding, which is vert skating, but you never count a person like Shaun White out. He is the ultimate competitor. So if there’s anybody who could get it together and qualify for the Olympics, Shaun could potentially do that.”

Park is a set of combined concrete bowls that have different featured obstacles, such as banks and rails, and some elements of vert.

“Park is relatively new to contests,” Schaar said. “It’s different than street. It’s a lot more transition, you’re going a lot faster and you have to kind of flow and connect your tricks together pretty well. But I think it’s a lot of fun. You can be really creative and do a lot of different things with it.”

Schaar, 19, said the road to the Olympics is “going to be a challenge but I’m up for it and it should be a fun adventure.”

Street courses include obstacles that can be found in any urban environment, such as stairs, rails, benches, ledges and banks. Park is a set of combined concrete bowls that have different obstacles.

Tokyo Olympics organizers unveil torch for next year’s games

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TOKYO — Tokyo Olympics organizers have unveiled their torch for next year’s games, playing off the image of Japan’s famous cherry blossoms.

The cherry blossom is Japan’s most-loved flower. Organizers on Wednesday said the torch image was picked because the torch relay will begin a year from now in March when Japan’s cherry blossom trees are in full bloom across the country.

The flame will emerge from a five-petal configuration at the top of the torch. Organizers said the “torch and its emblem will feature strongly in the buildup to the games across the whole of Japan.”

Japanese wrestling legend Saori Yoshida announces retirement

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Japanese wrestler Saori Yoshida announced her retirement via Twitter on Tuesday. The three-time Olympic gold medalist and 13-time world champion retires as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.

Yoshida made her senior debut in 2002 and went on to win her first 119 international matches (a win streak that lasted until January 2008). She made her Olympic debut at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the first Games at which women’s wrestling was contested, and claimed one of the inaugural women’s gold medals in the sport. After losing her first international match in January 2008, Yoshida rebounded by successfully defending her Olympic title at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Yoshida was selected as Japan’s flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics and she went on to win a third-straight Olympic gold medal at those Games. A few weeks later at the 2012 World Championships, she broke the record for most consecutive world or Olympic titles by claiming her 13th-straight (the previous record of 12 had been held by Russian legend Aleksandr Karelin). With three more world titles in 2013, 2014, and 2015, she entered the 2016 Rio Olympics having won 16-straight world or Olympic titles.

But in Rio, Yoshida was denied a fourth Olympic title by American Helen Maroulis, who defeated the Japanese great to become the first-ever American to win an Olympic gold medal in women’s wrestling. It marked Yoshida’s third loss in international competition — and first at a major event.

Yoshida started wrestling at the age of three under the guidance of her father, Eikatsu, a former Japanese national champion who built a dojo in the family’s home to introduce Yoshida and her two older brothers to the sport. Eikatsu went on to become Yoshida’s longtime personal coach, in addition to serving as a coach for the Japanese national women’s team. Eikastu died in 2014 after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Less than a week later, Yoshida helped the Japanese team win gold at the World Cup.

Yoshida has not competed since claiming silver at the 2016 Rio Games. The 36-year-old says she plans to pursue a career as an actor/TV personality.