Brighton Zeuner: The 'insecure little teen' going for gold in Tokyo

Brighton Zeuner
Brighton Zeuner has won two X Games gold medals and and a Vans Park Series World Championship title

Sixteen-year-old Brighton Zeuner has already won some of skateboarding's biggest titles.

In 2015, aged 11, she was the youngest female athlete to ever compete at the X-Games.

She began competing professionally in 2016 and went on to win gold at the inaugural World Skateboarding Championships.

In 2017, she made more history as the youngest champion in X-Games history, winning women's park gold the day after her 13th birthday.

A year later, Zeuner became the youngest back-to-back X-Games gold medallist.

Fast forward to 2021, and it comes as no surprise that she is one of the favourites for a medal when she represents Team USA at this summer's Olympics as skateboarding makes its debut in Tokyo.

Among those is Britain's Sky Brown, who is set to become the youngest British summer Olympian of all time.

Brown, 13, is currently ranked third in the world, behind only Japan's Misugu Okamoto and Sakura Yosozumi.

Zeuner missed six months leading up to the Games after tearing the main ligament in her ankle in one of the Olympic qualifiers and has slipped down the rankings. She heads to Tokyo ranked 12th in the world.

Zeuner, who isn't setting any medal targets or putting any pressure on herself, is incredibly open about her insecurities and vulnerabilities. She has the nerves you would expect a 16-year-old to feel before competing at their first Olympics.

"Every contest makes me super nervous," she says.

"I can't eat breakfast. My dad tries to make me but I can't. He calms me down and makes it seem like the contest is not that big of a deal, like it's not the end of the world.

"I get so worked up and there is a lot of pressure for all of the girls. It's so hard falling asleep the night before.

Zeuner says the sisterhood among her competitors helps her tackle the nerves.

"I'm know I'm not the only one that's a nervous wreck. This is not a corny thing, we all support each other. Girls from Brazil, Australia, we're all friends because we all share the same passion and there's no rivalry.

"We all go swimming after skating or all go and get dinner and I think that's a really fun environment instead of just being in a hotel room after practising and going to sleep."

Mixing fame with being a fan herself is something Zeuner is still to adapt to. She insists she is still a normal girl with normal friends.

"I don't think I'm famous at all," she says.

"I've had girls go up to me and ask for a picture and I feel like people might think I'm kind of rude when they meet me, but I am just nervous.

"It's just really cool that I have looked up to so many girls in skateboarding and now others might look up to me."

Right now, skating is still very much a hobby for Zeuner, but featuring in the Olympics has paved way for it to become a long-term career.

"When everyone found out about Olympics we kind of felt recognised and like we actually have chance to make a living off this," she said.

"When your passion turns into your job it is really cool, but you don't want to lose that passion.

"I've seen so many people come and go because they get pushed too hard. I love doing it not because of the money in skating or because it's in the Olympics. At the end of the day this is the thing I want to do until I can't do it anymore, because I'm too old".

Zeuner's love of skateboarding is thanks to her brother, Jackson, but now the Games are finally here, her main inspiration when competing in Tokyo is her late grandmother.

"My grandma who passed away, she wanted to watch me in the Olympics and I was really scared to even think about it, but my biggest drive is to do it for her.

"I think she wanted it more than me and I think I owe that to her."

When it comes to what's next after Tokyo, just thinking ahead to Paris 2024 is daunting in itself for Zeuner.

"I have the opportunity, I don't know where I'll be in another four years. When I'm older looking back I'll think what I did was pretty cool, but right now I'm still an insecure little teen, but I am grateful for everything."

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