One year on from striking gold at Tokyo 2020, Nishiya Momiji has an American dream

After becoming Japan's youngest-ever Olympic champion at the Games in 2021, the 14-year-old street skateboarder knows no boundaries as she eyes to eventually take her adventure to the sport's homeland.

By Shintaro Kano
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

The adventures of Nishiya Momiji began on 26 July, 2021.

That’s when Nishiya, at the age of 13 years and 330 days, became the youngest-ever Olympic gold medallist from Japan after winning the Games’ inaugural women’s street skateboarding competition.

She unseated Iwasaki Kyoko, who won the women’s 200-metre breaststroke at Barcelona 1992 at 14 years, six days and went on to become a household name in the country for years, well beyond her retirement.

Tuesday (26 July) marks exactly one year since Nishiya topped the podium at Tokyo 2020 in 2021 and became a very public figure. Supposedly, anyways.

One look at her and you wouldn’t notice she’s an international superstar in her sport. You’d see an ordinary teenager from Osaka who likes to hang out with her friends, and Nishiya is perfectly happy to keep it that way.

There’s no glitz or glam (although she did once oblige to a shoot with Vogue). She has an entourage of two at most, her mother Tomomi and her agent.

Yes, Nishiya is friends with other Olympic medallists - snowboarder Murase Kokomo (bronze) and wrestler Susaki Yui (gold) - but that’s as celeb as it gets with her.

Other than that she’s now 14 and has her fair share of endorsement deals as an Olympic gold medallist, not much is different with her since last summer.

Speaking exclusively to Olympics.com on a day she was cheering for Susaki at a wrestling tournament, Nishiya said the one year since the Games has flown by.

“I didn’t expect it”, she said, when asked about winning the gold medal over Brazil's Rayssa Leal and her friend Nakayama Funa at Ariake Urban Sports Park in the sweltering heat.

“It didn’t sink in at all. When I started doing TV, (that’s when it sunk in).

“I wasn’t worried or anything like that. All I thought about was meeting the most awesome skaters around. It was fun.

“I think it was an adventure. Yes, an adventure”.

Living in America

Out of the house, Nishiya doesn’t get mobbed by autograph or selfie seekers. Immediately after Tokyo, she had people randomly come up to her on the street but her mother and agent say she largely goes unrecognised around town.

Nishiya heads to school every day like any other 14-year-old, and can still skate at local parks uninterrupted.

The girl-next-door vibe is in stark contrast to that of the aura generated by fellow skateboarder and Olympic gold medallist Horigome Yuto, who is represented by the same management firm as Nishiya.

On a quest to make skateboarding a primetime, mainstream sport, Horigome is a rock star who rolls with other rock stars in various fields, dividing his time between Los Angeles and Tokyo.

Being his own man at 23 certainly makes a difference but the spotlight never steers away from Horigome. Nishiya, on the other hand, has her spotlight on the latest Harry Potter flick or smartphone games.

But Nishiya does have a common denominator with Horigome. Her dream is to live in the United States at some point in the future to pursue her career goals, one of them being filming video parts of skateboarding.

She’s started learning English, saying she can understand skateboard lingo but needs work to be able to have a conversation.

“I want to go overseas and shoot parts”, she said. “There are a lot of famous spots in America which is why I want to go there.

“I want to live in the U.S. - like Yuto. It doesn’t have to be L.A. but somewhere in the States.

“There are a bunch of skate parks everywhere and you can skate in the city, which is great. You’d get yelled at in Japan for doing that”.

Fun and Games

Nishiya took her first steps towards Paris 2024 earlier this month in Rome, where she finished runner-up to Nakayamaher friend in the first Olympic qualifier.

But as important as the contest was to her for Paris qualification, Rome, for Nishiya, was more about catching up with her friends overseas.

And at heart, that’s what it’s all about for Nishiya - having fun.

She is aware of the impact the Games have had on skateboarding, noticing new parks being built and more people taking up the sport. The stakes have gone up for everyone in the game now.

But ultimately, Nishiya competes because of her love for skateboarding and gets to meet her friends. She enters contests knowing that if she doe well, her mom will take her to Disneyland or will take her to Korean barbecue for dinner. It's all for fun.

Skateboarding is indeed an adventure for Nishiya - destined for America if she has her way - and she’s just getting started.

“It’s all about who can have the most fun”, said Nishiya, who turns 15 on 30 August.

“I try to have fun and pull off the tricks I want to do. That’s how I go about it”.

Nishiya was runner-up at the World Skate Street Skateboarding Rome, the first qualifier for Paris 2024.
Picture by World Skate

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