SARASOTA, Fla. — The 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo is just a few months away.
For the first time, skateboarding is an official Olympic sport, and Jake Ilardi is a rising star, especially at Payne Skate Park in Sarasota.
“It’s really crazy because this guy could go onto be a really good professional skater,” young skateboarder Jesse Pence said.
“I don’t think people have truly understood what we have here and what he’s about to go do,” Mark Hamilton of Sarasota Parks and Recreation added. “I know as soon as he gets on that big stage, he’s really going to be popular around here.”
A skateboard has been at Ilardi’s feet ever since he was four years old.
“My grandma bought us boards, and we were pushing them around on our hands and knees,” Ilardi said.
Now the 24-year-old is ranked sixth in the world, and second in the United States. The top three skaters in the U.S. will qualify for the Olympic games.
“Not really nerves. I’m just excited,” Ilardi said. “At the end of the day, these are just skateboarding contests coming up. It’s just fun. Skating is just fun to me. It’s always been fun. I am competitive. (But) at the end of the day, it’s about having fun. You got to remember that.”
Ilardi has three more competitions left to solidify his spot on the team. Once the U.S. team is selected, they’ll leave for Tokyo on July 14.
Because the games were postponed until the summer of 2021, Ilardi had an extra year to perfect a few new tricks to qualify for the games.
“That actually helped me a lot,” he said. “I’ve been able to film a lot more and progress a lot more. I learned a lot more tricks, I’m a lot more comfortable, just more time to prep for the contest.
He spends most of his time at Payne Skate Park.
“Skating here, I’ve grown up here. I know the park like the back of my hand,” Ilardi said. “It’s home to me.”
To help him train for the Olympics, he’s bringing a quarter pipe to the park.
“We just need a few additions and improvements for him to really be able to practice all the moves he needed to be ready for the Olympics,” Hamilton said.
Through a GoFundMe, he raised over $15,000 in less than a week to cover the cost.
“It’s more for me to get speed for the ‘big rail,” Ilardi said. “In the Olympics, my skating, I skate on the rails a lot. It gets very muddy over there. It gets awkward running through the mud and having to throw down. We’re putting it there for the kids to have something new to skate on, and also, it’s a win-win for me because I will have more speed to practice my tricks and won’t have to be running through the dirt.”
“Whatever funds we raise beyond the $15,000 we’re going to put towards repairs to the park,” Ilardi added — with the ultimate goal to build a new skate park and bring home gold.