Inside Team USA's Skateboarding Debut in Tokyo: 'Just Enjoy the Moment'
"We're the first skateboarders in the Olympics ever," the men's team coach tells PEOPLE
The stands are empty, the sun is blazing hot and skateboarding is making its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games. How cool.
"I know the pressure can be intense, but just enjoy the moment because, god, we're the first skateboarders in the Olympics ever. What a moment," the U.S. men's team coach, Andrew Nicolaus, tells PEOPLE.
He is recounting some of his advice as the skaters — including stars like Nyjah Huston, Heimana Reynolds and Brighton Zeuner — have traveled to Japan for their first appearance as Olympians.
The Americans, though medal favorites in both the park and street competitions, have had up-and-down success so far. Twenty-year-old Jagger Eaton is so far the only one to make it to the podium, with a bronze in men's street. ("Olympics has been a dream in his family for a very long time," Nicolaus says of Eaton, whom he's known for years.)
But regardless of the outcome, Nicolaus says, he reminds them of who they are outside the Olympics, how they've changed the Games already and the victories they can earn elsewhere.
"I told my guys just feel proud about representing out sport and our country and it's being recognized throughout the world."
And, Nicolaus says, the skaters have been soaking up their time in Japan so far. Not long after landing in Tokyo, they went exploring the athlete village and had some impromptu demonstration on the benches between buildings as onlookers gathered, with some filming on their phones.
(American silver medal swimmer Jay Litherland was one of those later gushing to PEOPLE about the excitement of seeing them skate.)
As Olympic skateboarding warps up with its final day of competition in Tokyo, Nicolaus sounds off on a few other major themes to keep in mind — and notable moments so far.
On these COVID-restricted Games …
"For us, we've never been so we're having a great time. We don't know what we're missing out on — so I guess Paris [in 2024] will be really fun."
Nicolaus says that, because of the pandemic, the U.S. skaters hadn't had the time to spend much time physically together but have been bonding as Olympians. The men and women have also been in the stands cheering for one another during competition.
On the different energy in a skating competition versus other Olympic events: Skaters competing with their headphones and phones and some of them cursing as they ride:
"Whatever can get you in the right mindset to throw your body down the handrail and not get injured, go right ahead. If that's screaming, cussing, go ahead. If that's listening to music so you can't hear anyone else, perfect." (Eaton told PEOPLE after he won his bronze that he had a mix of rap and country in his ears.)
Nicolaus says: "Our sport is like basically asking yourself to get hurt every day you go out there."
RELATED VIDEO: Jagger Eaton on Winning First-Ever Skateboarding Medal with a Broken Ankle — 'It Means the World to Me'
How the heat has been affecting the skaters:
"So when it's this hot outside, you have bushings on your trucks … rubber pieces that let the board bend back and forth so you can turn."
But "when those get really hot, it's rubber like anything else, you can move it and manipulate it more and so when it's hotter and hotter you have to really tighten down the bolt that holds the truck down."
"In terms of someone like Nyjah [who had a disappointing showing in street] everyone's board was affected."
Who to watch and what to remember for men's park ...
Zion Wright: "Although he wasn't top in the ranking, he's definitely someone to look out for."
"Heimana [a world champion who narrowly missed qualifying on Thursday morning] has been on fire for about three years now."
And Cory Juneau is "kind of our sleeper."
"I know what he's capable of and he's definitely going to look strong and unique."
A star-struck moment in the village
"My outlet outside of skateboarding is basketball and the fact that they're just multimillionaires eating in the same cafeteria as us blows my mind. … I know every payer from every team — I'll see any of them and I'm like, 'What!' "
The men's park skateboarding event finishes Thursday in Tokyo.
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.
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