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Chinese skater Zhang Yan competes in the women’s skateboarding street competition preliminaries at the Olympic Qualifier Series’ Shanghai leg on May 17. OIS

Fresh, hungry and full of potential — China's emerging skateboarders have passed the home Olympic qualifier test with, in some cases literally, flying colors, putting the world on notice of their scintillating rise ahead of Paris 2024.

Hopping on her board, with a determined expression, Cui Chenxi hit the course aggressively, tackled the first ledge with ease, took off at the next jump to perform a stylish kickflip, followed by a board slide on the rail, before stomping the trick safely, eliciting a rousing reaction from the Shanghai crowd at the Huangpu Riverside urban park.

The 14-year-old prodigy's skill and composure, well beyond her years, made Cui a natural fit in the mix of skateboarding's wonder girls at the Olympic Qualifier Series' Shanghai leg, where the collective improvement of Chinese skaters has captured increasing attention from the sport's top echelon.

Riding on the momentum of a smooth first run, Cui landed two of her five trick attempts to score a total of 247.44 points and finish fifth in the final of the skateboard street competition on Sunday, with her teammate Zeng Wenhui, also featuring in the top-8 final, capping the penultimate Olympic qualifier in a decent 7th place with an aggregate score of 164.74 points.

The discipline is competed over two sections. In the first, each athlete takes two 45-second runs on a course featuring stairs, ledges, curbs and handrails — as you might see on any urban street — before each skater performs their best five tricks in the second section.

A skater's score on the final ranking is combined from their best run and the two best tricks they perform, requiring a versatile repertoire of quality, consistency and creativity to prevail.

Asian Games champion Cui Chenxi, 14, finished fifth in the women’s skateboarding street competition at the Olympic Qualifier Series in Shanghai last week. Gao Erqiang / China Daily

Traditional powers still reigned in Shanghai, with Brazil's Tokyo 2020 silver medalist Rayssa Leal topping the podium, followed by Japanese duo, Liz Akama and Coco Yoshizawa, in second and third place, respectively.

Although not yet quite able to match the world's elite skaters with their best single trick, the Chinese athletes have furthered their status as serious contenders on the global stage, with four women making it to the street semifinal in Shanghai.

Cui's fifth-placed finish marked the best qualifier result a Chinese skater has achieved, across all disciplines, on the pathway to Paris, while Zeng, the only Chinese skater competing at the sport's Olympic debut in Tokyo, also had her progress tested during the high-stakes Shanghai meet.

"The vibe at this event was so cool. The reaction from the crowd was electrifying, and I enjoyed my skate here very much," Cui, who won last year's Asian Games title in Hangzhou at the age of 13, said after the street final on Sunday.

"I feel like I've stepped up the executions of my runs and tricks quite a lot after winning the Asian Games. And now, skating on a higher international stage again, I don't feel nervous anymore, skating into the top-8 in Shanghai," Cui said of her improvement.

"I feel like I am a tougher girl out there. I fell, I got a bruise or a scratch, but I didn't cry as I would have done before.

"I kept my focus once I started on the run. My goal is to earn the qualification to Paris and do my country proud at the Olympics," said Cui, who carried multiple scratches on her face and elbow, caused by a fall in training, into the final.

With their appearances in the final in Shanghai, Cui and Zeng have climbed to No 8 and 12, respectively, on the Olympic World Skateboard Ranking, with the final qualifier in Budapest in June still to come. When the June 24 deadline rolls around, the 20 highest-ranked skaters of each gender will secure direct qualification to the Paris Games.

With about two months to go before the Games open in the French capital, the progress will pick up pace, said Zeng, a 19-year-old former martial arts practitioner.

"We are catching up with the world's best skaters. The gap is closing and we are not far away now," she said, after landing only one of her five trick attempts in the final.

Gao Erqiang / China Daily

"Nerves still caught up with me today. Everybody feels the pressure of Olympic qualification. Everybody is hungry. This is probably where I need to improve.

"I will also have to add more difficult tricks to my runs, and make the tricks more connected and better choreographed," Zeng said about areas she is working on.

Perfect promotion

Watching and rooting for the home athletes from the stands, some younger spectators have grown interested in skateboarding, among the three other urban sports — BMX freestyle, sport climbing and breaking — featured at the qualifier, and took advantage of a variety of promotional activities, such as a junior skateboarding clinic with mini ramps.

During the four-day Shanghai qualifier, such activities staged across the dockland park saw parents and kids join long queues to sign up for introduction activities and entry-level training courses, reflecting the increasing popularity of these amateur-friendly sports in the East China metropolis.

The governing body will, for sure, aim to capitalize on the trend and give grassroots promotion an extra push, according to Wei Yong, secretary-general of the Chinese Roller Sports Association.

"Since last year, we've been developing a national reserve team and have organized a winter camp for all talented youngsters aged from 9 to 14 to be identified, promoted and developed all together," Wei told China Sports Daily.

"The overall atmosphere in the national program is healthy and encouraging. Kids learn and grow together, making future prospects for the 2028 Olympics quite bright," he said.

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