Wednesday , July 24 2024

‘I made it’: Thai 12-year-old fulfills Olympic skateboard dream

Five years after stepping on a skateboard for the first time, Vareeraya Sukasem will represent Thailand at the Olympics, aged just 12.

Vareeraya, known by her nickname “ST”, booked her place in dramatic fashion at a qualifying event in Budapest last month and will be one of the youngest athletes in Paris.

Feeling “pressured and stressed” going into the event — the last chance to qualify – Vareeraya failed to make the final round and headed to doping control thinking her hopes were dashed.

“While waiting for my testing result, my mom messaged me: ‘ST, you made it to the Olympics!’,” she told AFP.

“I was so happy. I screamed in the middle of the room because I was so happy that I had really made it.”

Vareeraya qualified 18th out of 22 for the women’s street skateboarding event, which will be held in the French capital’s Place de la Concorde on July 28.

Skateboarding, split into park and street events, made its Olympics debut at Tokyo three years ago, with skaters judged on the height and difficulty of their tricks.

British idol

Vareeraya’s journey to Paris began aged seven, when her mother took her to a new skate park near their home in Bangkok.

The youngster thought she was going to rollerblade, but her mother Tulraya Chantawong, a singer and former contestant on The Voice Thailand, had other ideas.

“My mother lied to me and said that they didn’t allow rollerblades, only skateboards,” she said.

“I did not like it at first. I was like ‘why do I have to skate. It’s difficult’.”

But under the guidance of older skaters, and her mother, Vareeraya soon caught the bug.

“I saw other skaters get their board on the ramp, and I was like ‘is that hard?’,” she said.

“I asked them to teach me the tricks.”

Vareeraya’s skating idol is Britain’s Sky Brown, who snared bronze at Tokyo aged just 13 and will compete again in Paris.

But the pair will not go head-to-head as Brown competes in the in the park event, based on ramps and half-pipes.

Vareeraya’s street discipline is held on a straight course with stairs and handrails to resemble an urban environment.

Injury woes

Her journey to the Olympics has been riddled with injuries, not unusual in such a high-risk sport, that sometimes kept her off her board for months at a time.

“I hurt myself and had to take a break for around four to six months,” she said.

“The longest period was during the pandemic when I couldn’t skate anywhere.”

Despite the setbacks, she continued to hone her skills, often finding inspiration from international skaters during competitions abroad.

“The first time I competed outside of the country was in Indonesia,” she said.

“In Thailand, I didn’t have many skateboarders as idols, so it was a chance to look up to skaters from Japan, China, and the US.”

Japanese skaters are expected to dominate in Paris as they did in Tokyo, where they took four out of the six women’s medals.

Apichat Rutnin, Vice-President of the Thailand Extreme Sports Association, said the target for Vareeraya is to finish in the top 10, out of 22 in her event, and aim higher in future Olympics.

“She is proof that young Thai skateboarders can make it on the global stage and to the Olympics,” he told AFP.

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