Australian gold-medal skateboard park winner has Southern California roots

Keegan Palmer of Australia smiles and holds his gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Skateboarding park winner Keegan Palmer of Australia celebrates on the podium with his gold medal on Thursday.
(Ben Curtis / Associated Press)

The back of Keegan Palmer’s shirt read “Australia.” It might as well have been San Diego.

The 18-year-old skateboarder who won gold in the park contest at the Tokyo Olympics on Thursday was born in Southern California, moved down under for about 14 years, then returned four years ago for a very specific reason.

“There were really good training parks to train for this event,” Palmer said. “If you know San Diego, you know that’s what skateboarding is.”


News, results and features from The Times’ team of 12 reporters who covered the Tokyo Olympic Games in the summer of 2021.

Aug. 8, 2021

As his sport finished its Olympic debut, Palmer had the best two runs of the day. After scoring 94.04 on his first try, he put together a 95.83 third attempt featuring a kickflip Varial McTwist, an immensely technical trick that requires kickflipping the board while performing an inverted 540 spin.

His closing run, which included two more 540s, pushed him almost 10 points ahead of the field and certainly impressed silver medalist Pedro Barros of Brazil.

“What he did today is beautiful because he just put skateboarding to a new level,” Barros said. “He’s already a legend.”

Third place went to U.S. skater Cory Juneau, a native of — yes — San Diego. Juneau barely made it to the finals, finishing the morning heats in the eighth and last spot. But he scored an 84.13 on his second run and held on as Brazil’s Luiz Francisco fell less than a point short on his final attempt.

Cory Juneau, in helmet and kneepads, competes in men's skateboarding park at the Tokyo Olympics.
San Diego’s Cory Juneau competes in men’s skateboarding park Thursday.
(Ben Curtis / Associated Press)

“San Diego and SoCal in general is kind of the mecca of skateboarding,” Juneau said. “We got parks everywhere and the best places to skate. It’s sunny all year round, so everyone makes their way out there at some point.”

Despite the close connection between skating and Southern California — the sport’s birthplace — the U.S. team was able to win only one other medal in Tokyo, with Arizona’s Jagger Eaton taking bronze in the men’s street contest.

Several big names on the American team, including the reigning park world champion from 2019, Heimana Reynolds, and Nyjah Huston, the greatest street contest skater in history, came up empty over the past week at Ariake Urban Sports Park.

The hands make all the difference in Olympic sport climbing. Fingers must be strengthened and thickened over years, all the better to dangle from a ledge.

Aug. 4, 2021

“I think skateboarding doesn’t discriminate, where you’re from, who you are or anything like that,” Reynolds said. “I mean, a lot of these people barely speak English and they’re one of my best friends. We all share the same language of skateboarding and I think that’s the most-beautiful thing about it.”

Either way, Palmer — who insists he’s “a full Australian” even as he apologized for not having much of an accent — was happy to give credit to his current home.

“Here it’s just like another day at the skate parks where we skate,” he said, comparing the Olympics to Southern California. “Everyone was there. Like, that session you guys just watched was the exact same session we had back in San Diego.”