We hoped it wouldn’t be like this, but, as the Olympics comes closer to reality, we’re seeing it’s as insane and awkward as we all thought it would be. As far as we can tell here at Jenkem HQ, the above video is a real promotion for a Chinese Olympic skateboarding camp. The boys and girls pushing triumphantly around a racetrack are all training to become skate robots for a spot on the Chinese Olympic skate team. Get ready, bitches, China’s in it to win it.
I received the video from a skater named Andrew Guan. Confused, I wanted to know more about the People’s Republic of Shred, and fortunately, because I’m married to a woman who is fluent in Mandarin and English, I was able to rope her into doing some research for us. And by “some research,” I mean “finding out all you can and translating everything for me.” Man, I really am privileged.
What she found were announcements from two groups, the Chinese Extreme Sports Association (CESA) and the China Roller Skating Association (CRSA), together demonstrating how China has been assembling a seriously jacked Olympic skate team of kids.
The CRSA opened a call to youth-oriented organizations — including schools, churches, community centers, or sport leagues of pretty much any kind — to train and nominate skateboarders to be considered for spots on the Olympic team. Some groups, like the CESA, which runs CX Open (think Chinese X-Games), have rosters of skaters ready to bring home the gold. But smaller groups around the country are gathering no-name kids and training them to compete with the best.
According to the CRSA’s guidelines, in order to train, kids must be between the ages of 8 and 14 and have previous experience either skating or doing some full-body sport like martial arts, gymnastics, or even diving. Apparently, kids were even picked from Shaolin monasteries based on “the results from push-ups and running.” Because it’s China, kids in CESA’s camp must also have “strong patriotism and desire to win honor for the motherland.” To prove this isn’t entirely fabricated propaganda, one training group was actually seen at a skatepark in Huntington Beach.
Currently, the CRSA claims to have training camps set up in six provinces. Camps must provide dormitories, a dining hall, an indoor skatepark with both street and bowl courses, and a fitness center. They are not allowed to house more than 30 skaters at a time and their staff must include a strength coach, a nutritionist, a medic, and a psychologist. Skaters must also commit to training at the camps for a minimum of four months each year. Essentially, these places are off-brand Camp Woodwards that you stay at for months on end, for free, in lieu of going to school. At least that sounds… kinda sick?
If China’s primary goal is to win shiny Olympic medals, then placing prospective Olympians in skate camps gives them a decent shot. We’ve seen through people like Ryan Sheckler and Nyjah Huston that it is technically possible to train children into ungodly skate machines.
But what about Chinese skateboarders who aren’t interested in these Olympic shenanigans? For a country that manufactures most of the world’s skateboards and skate shoes, and has become a Mecca for skate spots, their own skateboarding veterans get the shit end of the media coverage popsicle stick.
If the Chinese Olympic skate team ends up consisting of kids who would have been equally stoked to compete on the parallel bars or handspring across the mats, then those kids who aren’t learning how to find or skate real spots, aren’t part of local crews, and may never have to deal with a single security guard, have a chance of becoming the public face of Chinese skateboarding. When the time comes, it’s only right that homegrown brands have opportunities to share the benefits of global Olympic media coverage too.
From my own Instagram stalking, plenty of the skateboarders on the CESA team, as well as their three coaches, seem like they skate for the same reason that millions others do: because they love it. Hopefully Chinese Olympic organizers pick skaters who are both gnarly and passionate, and not just because they can kickflip on command or do the splits more gracefully than Nyjah.