Skateboarder Cory Juneau Celebrates Bronze and 'Little Brother' Keegan Palmer's Gold
"We've been skating contests ever since like growing up together and he's kind of really stepped into his own and I'm just so proud to see him up there," Cory Juneau said afterward
Team USA skateboarder Cory Juneau celebrated two Olympic medals on Thursday: his own — a bronze — and the gold won by his close friend Keegan Palmer, of Australia.
The pair, 22-year-old Juneau and the 18-year-old Palmer, excitedly embraced as they competed in the men's park final at the Ariake Urban Sports Park on the 14th official day of the Tokyo Summer Games.
"I like to say, 'We don't skate against each other. We skate with each other,' " Juneau told PEOPLE afterward, as he spoke with reporters about the camaraderie in the skating community.
He said he and Palmer, who was born in California and grew up largely in Australia, have been close for years.
"I'm so proud of him and he's like a little brother to me," Juneau told reporters. "We've been skating together since we were little kids. I think I met him when I was 10 years old and he must've been like seven and he came to California from Australia."
"We've been skating contests ever since like growing up together and he's kind of really stepped into his own and I'm just so proud to see him up there figuring out what he wants to do and pushing himself," Juneau said. "And this is the best I've ever seen him skate. So he deserved it."
Palmer told reporters of Juneau: "I've known him since I was a little kid and to be on the podium with him 10 years later is insane — I can't believe it."
Palmer led throughout the men's final on Thursday with an opening run that scored nearly 10 points higher than any of his competitors managed that day.
Juneau, who was the only American to qualify after milder showings from Heimana Reynolds and Zion Wright, skated three assertive runs that he said were a cut above what he put down to make it to the final.
"I had a couple of tricks I wanted to save in case I snuck in there," he told PEOPLE. "I don't want to put everything I could do on the table, so it's a little bit of a surprise when you get there. I didn't do a kickflip. I didn't do a heelflip, kind of just like went bigger and switched up a couple of lines and I'm thankful it worked out and completely honored to take home a bronze medal."
He told reporters that while he had practiced "bits and pieces" of his run in the final, that was the first time he strung it all together.
"All the stress or like butterflies were gone after I made it in there," Juneau told reporters. "So I just put everything I had on the table. It all came together how I imagined."
His best score, 84.13, came in his second attempt. (Brazil's Pedro Barros won silver.)
The men's skateboarding coach, Andrew Nicolaus, told PEOPLE ahead of the park final that Juneau was the team's sleeper and one to keep an eye on.
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"It's crazy," Juneau said after he won bronze on Thursday. "I guess it's just a nickname of mine because everyone says I look relaxed when I'm skating and they say I look like I'm not trying and I assure you I am."
Says Nicolaus: "[I'm] very happy he was able to go out there in the right headspace, have fun and compete to the best of his abilities. He adjusted his runs on the fly, which is next to impossible. Could not be more proud of that young man."
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.