Though it may be a year later than it was supposed to be, four sports will make their Olympic debuts in Tokyo in 2021.
Athletes will compete for gold, silver and bronze medals in climbing, karate, skateboarding and surfing in Tokyo. In doing so, the worldwide Olympic audience will be introduced not only to four exciting new sports, but also a cast of engaging new athletes.
So who are some of the U.S. athletes behind the Olympics’ newest additions?
Get to know four of them below.
Age in Tokyo: 20
Hometown: Boulder, Colorado
Claim to Fame: She was the overall youth world champion in 2016 for the combined event and finished ninth in the combined event at the 2019 world championships.
Get To Know Brooke
Raboutou was quite literally born to climb. Her mother is Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou, a four-time world cup and five-time U.S. champion, and her father is Didier Raboutou, a former standout climber for the French national team. Brooke was still in diapers when she started climbing at the age of 2 and honed her skills throughout childhood at ABC Kids Climbing, the elite kids’ climbing school and gym her parents founded in their hometown of Boulder. Family vacations consisted of taking climbing trips all over the world to spend time at the best outdoor spots.
Brooke started setting records for her age at 9. Two years later in 2012, the talented 11-year-old went to in Rodellar, Spain, and became the youngest person in the world to climb a route with a difficulty rating of 5.14b, something that athletes much older who’ve been doing it much longer aspire to accomplish. She made history again when she became the first U.S. climber to qualify for the Olympics.
“I think it’s taken a while to even realize what it means to be an Olympian let alone the first one in climbing for the U.S. and what that means history-wise,” said the University of San Diego student. “I think it’s really cool because my parents were at the top of their sport back when they were competing and if climbing was in the Olympics back then they likely would have been part of it. It’s cool that I can carry that on since they didn’t get a chance to.”
The Olympic competition will take place entirely on artificial walls with everyone competing in three disciplines: lead, in which climbers go for height, clipping the rope in as they ascend higher up a vertical wall; bouldering, in which climbers don’t use ropes and get unlimited tries within a period of time to complete the route; and speed, in which climbers race on the same route side-by-side up a vertical wall.
“For me bouldering and lead are my favorites because they’re always changing, in comparison to speed climbing or even other sports in that you’re not rehearsing the same thing over and over,” said Raboutou, the 2018 lead youth (17-18) world champion,. “It’s trying new things. In competitions you’ve never seen that climb before. You’ve never tried it so you have to be good at thinking on the spot.”
Age in Tokyo: 22
Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaii
Claim to Fame: Reynolds is the reigning world champion in park skateboarding.
Get To Know Heimana
Reynolds had the kind of upbringing that most kids can only dream of. Born and raised in Hawaii, Reynolds’ dad loved all board sports and introduced young Heimana to skateboarding at the age of 7. The youngster entered his first contest that same year, and by the age of 10 he was telling local news outlets that he wanted to be a professional skateboarder and skate in the Olympics when he grew up — even though the sport was still years away from being considered for the Games.
“I just had a feeling,” he said. “I knew that skateboarding was a sport, regardless of what people have to say. Everyone has an opinion of what’s a sport and what’s not a sport, but me, I always knew it was a sport. I always looked at it as a way of training and keeping my mind strong, and I loved skateboarding and didn’t take no for an answer.”
Olympic skateboarding will have two disciplines: park and street. Street skateboarders use rails, stairs, curbs and other elements similar to those you might find skating around a city or town to perform tricks. Park skaters drop down into bowls, using the sides and other ramps throughout the course to launch themselves in the air and do their tricks.
Reynolds is not just a park skater, he’s also the world champion following a stellar 2019 season.
“It’s still kind of sinking in,” Reynolds said. “I know I did win the world championships, but when people say it I’m still like, ‘Whoa.’ It still kind of baffles me. It’s definitely really humbling.”
Reynolds is living in San Diego because California is the epicenter for the sport in the U.S., he said, and it’s a lot easier to get to a contest in Carlsbad or elsewhere in the state than it is from Hawaii.
But Hawaii, where his family still lives and owns and operates a skate shop and skate park, will always be home, and Reynolds can’t wait to represent not just the U.S. but also the Aloha State at the Olympics.
“I know that everybody in Hawaii has my back and is rooting for me to do the best I can,” he said. “Knowing I have the island behind me and knowing they want me to do good, and I want to do good representing them, it’s an awesome cycle of happiness. I love being Hawaiian and from Hawaii. I’m honestly super proud of it.”
Age in Tokyo: 27
Hometown: San Clemente, Califonia
Claim to Fame: Andino ended the 2019 season ranked No. 1 among U.S. men and fifth in the world in the World Surf League.
Get To Know Kolohe
Kolohe is Hawaiian for “little rascal,” and Kolohe Andino’s nickname on the tour is “Brother,” so dubbed by his two sisters when they were growing up in San Clemente, California, but lately the surfing star has another nickname as well.
That’s what they call him in Japan, where the professional surfer is not only hugely popular but where he will also be when the sport makes its Olympic debut next year. Andino loves wearing red, white and blue, and captioned an image of the flag with fireworks in the background posted to Instagram on July 4, “Happy Birthday to the USA. Feel truly honored, blessed and grateful to be from this glorious land. I will never apologize for being American and fly those colors proud. In my mind, everyday is July 4th.”
Andino became the first U.S. surfer ever to qualify for the Olympics back in October.
He also comes from a surfing family. His father, Dino, was a pro surfer who competed on the world tour and became a national champion in the 1990s. After retiring, Dino retired managed a team, and young Kolohe would travel with him to competitions around the world, learning from the best of the best. Andino made his own World Surf League Championship Tour debut in 2012.
Now he’s looking forward to sharing his sport with the world.
“I felt like it was about time (for surfing to be included in the Olympics) because I feel like the different sorts of stuff that we do on the board, especially when the waves are bigger, the stuff we have to handle is definitely athletic enough to be in the Olympics,” he said in a World Surf League video. “Especially the first year that surfing is going to be in the Olympics is something I’ll always cherish. Also just the Opening Ceremony, I’m so excited to go down with the flag and have a flag on my board and represent my country.”
Andino is also an advocate for social justice. After the death of George Floyd in police custody earlier this year he auctioned off one of his surfboards, offering to match the highest bid received, and raised over $10,000 for the Innocence Project.
Age in Tokyo: 28
Hometown: Los Angeles
Claim to Fame: Kokumai won a bronze medal in kata at the 2012 world championships and, more recently, silver at the 2019 Pan American championships.
Get To Know Sakura
Karate at the Olympics will consist of both kata, a solo discipline in which athletes perform a set, choreographed series of movements, and kumite, which is sparring against an opponent. The child of Japanese parents who started karate at the age of 7 while living in Honolulu, Kokumai practiced both disciplines until the age of 16. At that point not only was she having more success in kata but she was also developing thicker, stronger muscles on her 5-foot frame, she said. That meant when fighting in her weight class she was up against girls much taller than she was, so Kokumai began to focus more on kata.
There are 102 katas recognized by the World Karate Federation, and although the athletes get to choose which one they want to perform they will only be allowed to perform a specific kata once throughout the Olympic tournament. They will be judged on elements including strength, speed, balance and technical aspects such as stances, techniques and breathing.
What Kokumai said she loves most about kata is that it emphasizes the art piece of martial arts. Even though she’s been performing the same kata for years and the movements don’t change, she said, the expression changes dramatically over time as she gets older and more experienced.
“The same kata I performed at 16 is completely different than how I’m performing it now, and that comes with maturity as a person,” said Kokumai, who earned two silver medals in the Karate1 Premier League circuit earlier this year, marking her best finishes ever. “It’s hard to compare it to other things or even try to explain, but even if I’m practicing the same thing over and over again you notice the changes, and it’s because I’m working to try to perfect every single movement.
“That’s the beauty of it; it’s a nonstop learning process and you’re practicing not just to become a champion but to become a better person overall. That mentality has been taught to me as a kid growing up and I think it’s helped me to just keep pushing to train every day.”
Kokumai is currently fifth in the World Karate Federation rankings of women’s kata.