“It was the best possible scenario and the worst possible scenario.”
That’s how Canadian skateboarder Andy Anderson described the moment right before his last shot at qualifying for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics. The Dew Tour in Des Moines, Iowa was the final event where park skaters could clinch an Olympic quota spot, and after days of rain delays and stoppages, Anderson was feeling confident dropping into the first of two practice runs before the semifinal.
Then, he fell. Hard.
“I had the worst slam I’ve had in over a year,” the White Rock, B.C., resident told CBC Sports “So I had to do my two runs on a busted knee.”
The 24-year-old ended up tearing his meniscus. It was an unwelcome curveball in a pressure-cooker situation: Anderson had to finish in the top 16 to qualify for the Olympics, and his career-best up until then was 24th.
“There was no way I would’ve skated unless all that was on the line,” he said. “And if I fell in the run, it would’ve wrecked my leg completely.
“So I had to land everything in order to walk out of the bowl.”
And Anderson did, putting down two exceptional runs and even managing to elevate his tricks.
“To place high, you need either a spin — where you’re spinning 360, 540 or 720 [degrees] in the air — or be flipping your board” he said. “Those are two things everyone in the top rankings can do and I haven’t been able to do those things.
“I focus more on balance and trick combinations.”
But Anderson had been practising one flip in particular — an ariel heelflip lean air — for a year and a half. It’s a mid-air maneuver where Anderson kicks his board to spin it 180 degrees — while flipping — then catches the board mid-air only to throw it back under his feet to land on a steep slope.
He’d never been able to land it consistently until a week before Dew Tour. And, despite the knee injury, he landed it in Iowa.
WATCH | On why a medal might not be part of Anderson’s plan:
“It was magic,” Anderson said. “I figured out if I put my front foot like three inches further back on my board, that it would just go right to my hand every try.
“Two weeks before Dew Tour I was doing it one out of five, two out of 10 tries.”
His efforts were good enough for 11th place, a career-best finish and his ticket to compete in skateboarding’s Olympic debut. Anderson will be the only Canadian in the park event.
“[My knee] ended up giving me the pressure I needed to put everything down,” he said. “It was such a blitzkrieg of events that I’m still in shock about the whole thing.
“I’m still processing what happened.”
Expects to be healthy for Aug. 5 event
Anderson said his knee should take about two to three weeks of rehab to heal, so he’ll be healthy for the park event on Aug. 5 at the Ariake Urban Sports Park, the same venue where the skateboarding street event will happen.
“It’s kind of funny because the only image of the Tokyo bowl I’ve seen was on Instagram at the airport arriving in Des Moines,” Anderson said. “I’ve been so focused on getting to the Olympics, I haven’t spent any time studying the park.”
But Anderson says it’s more than just the bowl he has to think about. He’ll take the time after Dew Tour to figure out an Olympic strategy, which is usually quite straightforward for most athletes: perfect tricks and lines that will put them on the podium.
But for Anderson, who says making it to the Olympics is the biggest accomplishment of his life, it’s not that simple.
“Am I there to help skateboarding, to help spread creativity throughout the sport,” he said. “Or am I there to place the best and try to beat everybody?”
And to complicate his line of thinking, Anderson may need to do a bit of both. Only 20 skaters compete in the park event, and the preliminaries won’t be as widely covered as the final. So to ensure an international audience, athletes have to make the final.
“So if my goal is to help skateboarding through my run and showing creativity, I need to beat everybody to make it to that stage,” Anderson said. “So I have this moral dilemma I’m going through right now and I have to have a really clear goal in order to prepare for it.
“And that goal is something I’m still developing.”