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Jagger Eaton skates toward two golds in Paris after Tokyo bronze on broken ankle

Jagger Eaton

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 25: Jagger Eaton of Team USA reacts at the Skateboarding Men’s Street Finals on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Urban Sports Park on July 25, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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In skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, there was zero crossover between the two events of park and street. The 20 men and 20 women who competed in park were different from the 20 men and 20 women who competed in street.

American Jagger Eaton, who won street bronze on a broken ankle, set a goal to qualify for Paris in both events. He believes he is the best in the world in each and has backed it up.

Since the Tokyo Games, Eaton became the first skateboarder to pair a world title in street (November 2021) with one in park (February 2023) in the short history of those competitions.

Eaton (named after the Rolling Stones singer) is back in the Japanese capital this week for another world championships in street, a key competition in Olympic qualifying.

The 22-year-old from Mesa, Arizona, is No. 1 in the world in park rankings.

In street, he is ninth, but with nearly four times the amount of ranking points of the projected last man in the Olympic field. Eaton missed the 2022 World Championships due to injury, then placed sixth at another world championships this past February and eighth at July’s X Games.

A better finish this week would boost his odds for history next summer. Since 2000, Americans who earned multiple individual gold medals at one Olympics fit into two categories: swimmers and Simone Biles.

In park, skateboarders take a 45-second run inside a bowl that loosely resembles an empty pool. In street, it’s a 45-second run on a course with elements such as stairs, rails and gaps, which is later followed by five individual tricks.

The individual tricks in street take a single, explosive moment. In a park run, the body is constantly moving, often at a concave angle, and no second can be wasted.

“The only similarity between park and street is that you’re on a skateboard,” Eaton said.

And Eaton has been on one for as long as he can remember. On Christmas 2005, Jagger, then 4, and brother Jett, then 7, received their first skateboards.

Their parents were gymnasts, but father Geoff’s passion growing up was skateboarding. “The individuality and creativity,” he said of what drew him to the sport.

The boys took to it, too. Geoff, who ran the 40,000-square foot Desert Devils Gymnastics center, put a four-foot-tall ramp in one corner of the gym.

Within two years, 18,000 feet of the facility were dedicated to skateboarding. A few hundred Mesa-area kids filled it, ages 3 to 13. A program was born: Kids That Rip. Geoff said one-quarter of the U.S. Olympic skateboarding team for Tokyo was part of KTR at different points: Jagger, Alana Smith and Brighton Zeuner.

If you ask Jagger, one kid stood out at KTR.

“The only reason that I’m a pro skateboarder is because of my older brother,” he said, “because he was obsessed with it, too.”

Jett’s goal was the X Games. He received his first invite in 2012 to compete in the big air competition at age 13.

In big air at the time, an athlete took an elevator 70 feet up to skate down what’s called a mega ramp, gaining enough speed to jump over a 55-foot gap, land, skate back up a 27-foot quarter pipe and perform a trick.

While training weeks out from X Games, Jett crashed into a ramp before take-off and was thrown over the front of his board at a very high speed.

“It wasn’t an accident where he was skating something he shouldn’t have been skating or trying something he shouldn’t have been trying,” Geoff said. “It was just an unfortunate thing that happened.”

Jett’s skull was fractured. He was in a medically induced coma for two days.

“I thankfully woke up with no serious damage to any parts of my body,” he said. “It set me back about a year of skateboarding.”

The X Games invite stayed in the family. It was decided that Jagger, then 11, would accept it and not only descend the mega ramp soon after his brother’s crash, but also become the youngest athlete in X Games history.

“The first thing that (Jett) told me was, ‘You’re going to skate mega. You’re not going to let what happened to me ever justify you and your ability to perform,’” Jagger said. “When that happened, I went back and started skating mega.”

At the X Games, Jagger placed sixth in a six-man big air semifinal heat that included the legendary Bob Burnquist, who is 24 years older. A highlight from an earlier elimination round lives on YouTube.

“If there’s a specific moment that I can look back on that really changed my perception on skateboarding as being a full-time profession, it was competing mega ramp when I was 11 at X Games in LA,” Jagger said. “That changed my life forever.”

Jett never did big air again. He returned to competition in other events, left the contest scene a few years ago and now manages the family’s Mesa facility while coaching young skateboarders.

Jagger loved competition and stayed in the spotlight. In 2016 and 2017, Nickelodeon aired a 20-episode docuseries titled “Jagger Eaton’s Mega Life,” where the young teen learned how to drive with Bubba Wallace, swam with pigs with Chris Bosh and trained in Alaska with five-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey and his 88 dogs.

The IOC announced in 2016 that skateboarding was added to the Olympics for the Tokyo Games.

Jett and Jagger’s grandfather Stormy was a 1974 World silver medalist in trampoline, an event that made its Olympic debut in 2000. Stormy also completed the 1985 Ironman Kona World Championship in 12 hours and change. Geoff coached elite-level gymnasts, but none ever made it to the Games.

Jagger won X Games silver medals in street in 2018 and park in 2019. But he thought his Tokyo Olympic hopes ended on May 23, 2021, when he finished seventh on a shredded left ankle in the last qualifier with the third and final men’s park spot at stake.

Jagger remembers crying in his dad’s arms for hours afterward, ambling along the Des Moines River.

“We walked for about a mile, and it was a really hard mile,” Geoff said. “But a great moment. Literally rock bottom.”

The next week, Geoff was up before sunrise one morning at the family home in Arizona. Jagger came out of his room wearing a backpack and rolling a bag down the hallway.

I’m going to Rome, Jagger told him. I’m going to make the Olympic team in street.

An injured Jagger needed to leapfrog another American in the qualifying standings at the last contest — the world championships in Italy. Limping, he finished fourth. It was enough to grab the final spot. Six weeks later, he was on an Olympic podium.

Since, he spoke about a post-Olympic burnout from that stressful summer. He managed it by changing his diet, writing every day and quitting drinking.

Jagger said that if he had qualified for the Tokyo Games in park, he would not have made that last-gasp effort in street because of the state of his ankle.

Now healthy, he has double gold dreams in 2024 after winning a world title in each.

“A lot of skateboarders wish they could do what he’s doing,” said Ryan Sheckler, who won X Games titles in park and street when he competed in the 2000s, “myself included.”