Skateboarder Brighton Zeuner, 16, Says She's Focused on 'Still Being a Kid' in Olympics Run-Up

"Everyone wants to be the best. But I want to use [skateboarding] to dive off into other things," the teen world champion has said

Brighton Zeuner
Brighton Zeuner. Photo: Harry How/Getty

Brighton Zeuner will celebrate her birthday nine days before the start of the Tokyo Olympics that — to date — will crown her skateboarding career.

She'll be 17 years old.

When Olympic officials announced they would bring skateboarding into the Summer Games for the first time, they also said there would be no age minimum. The unusual lack of a restriction means the sport will be unusually peopled with prodigious teens and tweens.

Like Zeuner: The Arizona native, who now lives in California, is a two-time X Games gold medal winner and a two-time world championship medalist.

But in person, she's as likely to chat about … well, you name it. The collection she curated for Vans. Her past love of yellow. Her dreams of fashion school in New York. Her preferred downtime activity (shopping). How much she likes sushi. That time she and a boyfriend went as the Tim Burton-inspired undead for Halloween, with a clutch last-minute assist from her mom. That time she and the boyfriend went mini-golfing and didn't "really follow the rules."

"I've got to stay a kid," she told PEOPLE in an earlier interview while preparing for Tokyo.

And, come July, Zeuner will add the title of Olympian after teenager, though the thought doesn't sound like it fazes her.

She rattles off her checklist for staying ready: "a good social life and everything, mental health — just kind of like eating healthy and working out helps with my confidence. I mean, everyone has their own reasons to do it, to feel good, but that really helps with competing and stuff."

"I feel like" I have a lot of downtime, Zeuner told PEOPLE then, in the lull before the storm of the Olympics. "But that's probably going to change pretty soon."

Speaking later with Sports Illustrated, she was no more ruffled: "Everyone wants to be the best. But I want to use [skateboarding] to dive off into other things."

Skating, she said, was all about freedom. The grinds and kick-flips; the perpetual motion and the empty air around you.

Brighton Zeuner
Brighton Zeuner. Sean M. Haffey/Getty

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"I thought it was cool that you could invent your own tricks and then other people could do them. And when you'd go to a skate park, it was like daycare almost. … I would feel like an adult, like, I can just get dropped off at the skate park!" she told SI. "And then I just started realizing I couldn't live without it."

The "still being a kid" thing Zeuner stresses does have its challenges, her dad, Brandon, told SI: "It can be a job at times. We want her to be a child, a normal kid, but before COVID she was in China two or three times a year, in Europe, Brazil for two weeks at a time. She didn't have a proper birthday until this year."

But, then again, she has relished her success as skateboarding's profile has grown among women and girls: "For me the timing was perfect because I got to watch it unfold and [reach] a bigger audience."

Although, for the record, there's no need to qualify her success because of her gender.

"It doesn't bother me like, Oh, I'm so angry at that. I just think, we're skateboarders, you know," she told SI. "You wouldn't say, 'He's the best male skateboarder.' I never see that in articles."

Now she gushes: "My mom and I are in love with Serena Williams. She's such a—can I say b-----? She's such a b-----. It is so empowering watching how freakin' cool she is."

To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit Watch the Tokyo Olympics beginning July 23 and the Tokyo Paralympics beginning Aug. 24 on NBC.

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