TOKYO, Japan — The women’s street skateboarding podium might make the rest of us question what the heck we were doing when we were teenagers.
Japan’s Momiji Nishiya took home a gold medal at 13 years old. The silver medalist, Brazil’s Rayssa Leal, is also 13, which makes Japanese skater and bronze medalist Funa Nakayama look relatively old in comparison at 16.
For what it’s worth, there’s no universal minimum age to compete in the Olympics, but each sport’s international regulatory body can set their own.
There’s no minimum age to compete in surfing or skateboarding events, whereas Olympic gymnasts must be at least 16 years old and boxers must be 18 (fun fact: this is the only sport with a maximum age limit, which caps competitors at 40 years old).
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The youngest athlete in the Tokyo Olympics is 12-year-old Syrian table tennis competitor Hend Zaza. She was eliminated from the games on Saturday, but still has plenty more years left to compete.
As for why skateboarders are so young, one theory is that once you reach a certain age, the fear of injury can make it harder to compete at a high level, or to keep pushing boundaries and learning new skills.
“Anyone who has stepped on a skateboard has fallen off, and there’s a good saying, it doesn’t matter how rich you are, you can’t buy a trick, you have to pay with pain,” BBC skateboarding commentator Ed Leigh said. “That’s the only way around it. That’s something shared between all skateboarders. A camaraderie. You know to get that good you’ve overcome some big slams and stayed committed to it.”
> Want to learn how Olympic skateboarding works? Watch the video above.
Leigh said that skateboarders typically start young, when their bodies can recover more quickly from the bad falls that are inevitable when you start learning a skill (think about learning to ski as an adult versus as a child).
“We’re going through this huge bell curve of adoption, but now we’ve got the younger generation coming through, we’ll see them stay for longer,” Leigh told INEWS in the U.K. “A good person to compare to is Shaun White, who competed at 13 and then at 35 he’s retiring half-pipers and is still at the top of his game.”
For what it’s worth, the oldest competitor in the Tokyo Olympics is 66-year-old Mary Hanna, an equestrian from Australia who has now been to seven games.
There’s also Rune Glifberg, a 46-year-old skater from Denmark who actually appeared as a character in the 1999 Playstation version of Tony Hank Pro Skater.
Here's a list of the youngest Olympic medalists of all time:
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