By Mari Saito
TOKYO (Reuters) -Skateboarding star Nyjah Huston of the United States and hometown favourite Yuto Horigome advanced to the finals of the men's street event on Sunday in skateboarding's historic debut at the Olympics.
Huston, 26, recovered his form in the final two tricks after a stumbling start in his heat, a star-studded pack that included France's Aurelien Giraud.
Skateboarding's four-day event marks a turning point for skateboarding, which has its roots in youth street culture and has influenced everything from art to fashion.
The men's street competition on Sunday will be a star-studded affair, with the who's who of international skating competing.
Jagger Eaton of the United States came first in the inaugural heat of the day, taking 35.07 points, advancing along with fellow countrymen Huston.
Eaton said it was "tough" to skate without the support of a packed crowd and used his Airpods to get into the zone. Most venues at the Tokyo Olympics will be without spectators as Japan tries to rein in an upsurge in COVID-19 cases.
"I always really get hyped by the crowd," he told Reuters on the sidelines of the event, noting he was listening to a rap song as he began his run to pump himself up.
Even without the crowds, Eaton said it felt significant to represent his country at the Olympics.
"It just feels different," he said.
In all, eight skaters will now proceed to the finals.
Many expect Huston and Tokyo's very own Horigome to come out on top, skating on a concrete course designed with rails and benches emblazoned with the five Olympic rings.
After landing a massive trick with effortless grace in his preliminaries, Horigome, who grew up in the same ward where the venue is, said he had more surprises up his sleeve for the finals.
"I'm so happy to be here," Horigome said after his run. "I still can't believe I'm in the Olympics right now."
By adding skateboarding to its roster, the International Olympic Committee hopes it can tap into its legions of fans worldwide, who have built skateboarding into a multi-billion dollar industry.
But despite the Olympic approval, skateboarding is still seen as a public nuisance in Japan.
Just outside the skate park a poster duck-taped to the exterior white fence banned skateboarding for locals.
"Hopefully after this people will be more accepting to skateboarding," said Huston after Reuters asked about the sign.
"We're not out there trying to vandalise or trespass as lots of people see it, we're just out there doing our job and having an awesome time."
(Reporting by Mari Saito; Editing by Stephen Coates)