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Olympics-Level Skateboarding Isn't All 13-Year-Old Sky Brown Can Do

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

One of the youngest athletes at the Tokyo Olympics is a 13-year-old girl who lives in both California and Japan. Her mother is from Japan. And she's representing her father's country, Great Britain. As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, she competes today in the Olympics' first ever park skateboarding event.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Sky Brown is adorable in her cute skating outfits, always riding her skateboard with a big smile on her face.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "YOU CAN BE ANYTHING - SKY BROWN")

SKY BROWN: For me, it feels like I'm flying in the sky. I want to go as high as I can. Hi. My name is Sky Brown, and I like to skate and surf.

DEL BARCO: She just celebrated her 13th birthday, and, as she tells her online fans, she's skated and surfed since she was 3. When she was 10, she and her ballroom dancing partner were crowned the first winners of TV's "Dancing With The Stars: Junior" (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DANCING WITH THE STARS: JUNIORS")

JORDAN FISHER: Sky and JT.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

DEL BARCO: Sky and her little brother, Ocean, have a popular YouTube channel, Sky & Ocean.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "BACKYARD SKATING AT LETICIA BUFONI'S - SKY AND OCEAN VLOGS")

S BROWN: We can skate, maybe TikTok, maybe jump in the pool and east some sushi.

DEL BARCO: Sometimes she vlogs about new tricks, like the 100-foot mega ramp she jumped with skateboard legend Tony Hawk cheering her on.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OCEAN BROWN: Yeah.

ATIBA JEFFERSON: She's just someone who really loves skating. She's very focused. I've seen her be nothing but polite and nice.

DEL BARCO: Atiba Jefferson is a staff photographer for Thrasher, the premier magazine for and by skateboarders. Here in Tokyo, Jefferson has been photographing her as she preps for the Olympics.

JEFFERSON: She's doing Frontside 540s, spinning in the air 540 degrees. And that's amazing. You know, I've watched all the skaters practice over the last four days. And, you know, I would be surprised if she's not on the podium.

DEL BARCO: At the Tokyo Olympics, two other 13-year-old girls from Japan and Brazil won medals in the street skateboarding event. Jefferson says being so young and small is an advantage for Sky as a skateboarder in the park competition, doing midair tricks, flips and rotations in an outdoor concrete course.

JEFFERSON: You're catching air, and you're learning speed. You are a lot more resilient when you fall, and it doesn't hurt as much if you're only 100 pounds.

DEL BARCO: But last summer, during a practice session, Sky had a big fall - 15 feet off the side of a vertical ramp. She crashed down on to flat concrete and was unresponsive at first.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER BLADES WHIRLING AND MONITOR BEEPING)

DEL BARCO: Sky fractured her skull, lacerated her lung and broke her left wrist and hand. From her hospital bed, with a black eye and cast on her arm, she recorded an Instagram message.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "MY WORST FALL YET - SKY BROWN")

S BROWN: I don't usually post my falls or talk about them because I want people to see the fun in what I do. And I just want everyone to know that it's OK. Don't worry. I'm OK. It's OK to fall sometimes. And I'm just going to get back up and push even harder.

DEL BARCO: Sky says she wants to use her platform to empower young girls.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "YOU CAN BE ANYTHING - SKY BROWN")

S BROWN: I want to push boundaries and show that I can do what boys can do, and you can do it, too.

DEL BARCO: She wrote a book filled with similar advice, and she even recorded a song and music video called "Girl."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIRL")

S BROWN: (Singing) They know I'm fast on my feet. Gravity got nothing on me. Take a look, got my lip gloss on. Ride or die, I've got to be strong. Got to be fast, got to be tough, be brave and do what I love. I don't mind if people stare. No one going to stop me. I don't care.

DEL BARCO: Singing, dancing, surfing, skateboarding in the Olympics - it seems the sky's the limit for Sky Brown.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Tokyo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIRL")

S BROWN: (Singing) I can be gritty and shake up the world. I can do anything. Yup. I'm a girl. I'm a girl. I'm a girl, girl, girl. I'm a girl. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.