Fun and Games: Shirai Sora is all about both as the Japanese skateboarder begins qualifying for Paris 2024 Olympics

Determined to make up for his disappointing campaign at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021, the 20-year-old street maestro is eyeing the big-time - like his good friend and gold medallist Horigome Yuto.

By Shintaro Kano
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Shirai Sora is all about fun.

His first name is the Japanese word for "sky", and his liberating personality couldn't be more fitting.

He is the life of the party, the classroom clown that everyone loves and keeps it light. You can't not like Shirai.

So you know when someone like that flashes his game face days before a competition, it's real. You can see it in the eyes.

"Definitely. Without question," Shirai said on Friday (24 June 2022) at Narita airport in Japan, when asked if the upcoming World Skate Street Skateboarding Championships in Rome took on a whole another meaning compared to other contests. The Pro Tour event from 26 June to 3 July is available to watch live on Olympic Channel via Olympics.com, and is the first part of the Olympic qualifying process for Paris 2024.

"With the (Street League Skateboarding), X Games - even if you lose, there’s always the next one you can make up for. This is the first qualifier and while there are several of them, every contest counts.

"You win one, it moves you that much closer to the Olympics. You lose and you take a step back from it. I realised that on the way to the Tokyo Olympics. There’s not one event I can waste.

"It’s not your ordinary competition."

Home disappointment for Shirai

The 20-year-old Shirai won a spot at skateboarding's Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 after finishing third in Rome last year, next to his buddy Horigome Yuto and Nyjah Huston.

But the Games themselves didn't quite turn out the way he hoped it would. Shirai was ninth in qualifying, and didn't make it to the final.

Shirai watched as Horigome won the gold medal - and subsequently soared to stardom. Horigome is now one of the most visible athletes in Japan as a result of his becoming an Olympic champion.

Shirai knew the Games would be big for Japan and for skateboarding. But he had no idea how big - not even close.

"I was wondering how things would turn out because needless to say, I’d never seen skateboarding as part of the Olympics until Tokyo," he said.

"But after actually taking part in it, I felt the awesome impact. I saw someone close to me - Yuto - win it and his life just completely changed.

"The Olympics is that incredible. I know, I felt it firsthand."

At X Games Chiba in April 2022 - the first X Games to be held in Japan - Shirai took home bronze as part of a Japanese podium sweep alongside Horigome and 15-year-old Ikeda Daiki.

Earlier this month, Shirai won the Street League Skateboarding (SLS) qualifier to book a spot in the Championship Tour, beginning mid-July, following Rome.

But that is where his focus is right now - on the park next to the famed Colosseum, where competition will begin 29 June.

Shirai knows full well what's at stake in Rome, in the short term and long term, if and when he returns to the Games in two years' time.

"If I can reach the podium this time it will make things that much easier. I’m going into this with a feeling I usually don’t have for the other contests," he said.

"Two years will fly by. I didn’t do well at Tokyo so I’m going all in for Paris. It might not be everything, but Paris is really important to me."

How to watch Shirai Sora and top Olympic skateboarders at World Skate Street Skateboarding Championships Rome in 2022

The Pro Tour event from 26 June to 3 July 2022 is available to watch on Olympic Channel via Olympics.com, with replays and highlights throughout the week and the semi-finals and final streamed live on Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd July.

It's the first part of the Olympic qualifier series for the Paris 2024 Games.

PATHWAY TO PARIS 2024: SKATEBOARDING

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