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Team USA skateboarders hope Olympic spotlight will help grow the sport

Jagger Eaton, 20, smiled his way through the Olympic men’s skateboarding street final.

Bobbing his head to the mix of old country and new rap blasting in his AirPods, he used music as motivation in the absence of a crowd, skating his way to a bronze medal for the United States last week.

“I feel like I’m on this high and I don’t know if I’ll ever come down. I’m so stoked, I’m so fortunate,” Eaton said three days after the competition. “To take home that bronze, I’m just trying to re-create the moment in my head. It’s surreal and I’m just so blessed.”

The women’s park skateboarding competition took place Wednesday with Sakura Yosozumi, 19, and Kokona Hiraki, 12, taking gold and silver for Japan, and Sky Brown, 13, taking home bronze for Britain. The men’s park competition will take place Thursday, when Cory Juneau, 22, Heimana Reynolds, 23, and Zion Wright, 22, will represent the United States.

Eaton’s bronze medal in the men’s street contest marks the U.S.’ first and only medal in street skateboarding’s inaugural Olympic competition. Japan’s Yuto Horigome, 22, took home the gold, while Brazil’s Kelvin Hoefler, 28, took home the silver. In the women’s street contest, Momiji Nishiya, 13, and Funa Nakayama,16, won gold and bronze for Japan, while Brazil’s Rayssa Leal, 13, took home silver.

Skateboarding has long been considered a counterculture activity associated with rebellion. Many in the skateboarding community have high hopes that the Olympic spotlight will encourage people around the world to get interested in the sport.

Bronze medallist Jagger Eaton on the podium at the end of the men’s street prelims during the Tokyo Olympics at Ariake Sports Park Skateboarding in Tokyo on July 25, 2021.Jeff Pachoud / AFP – Getty Images

U.S. women’s street skateboarding team member Mariah Duran, 24, said she hopes to see not only growth of the sport, but also understanding of the pure love and dedication people feel for it.

“We love this,” she said. “We’re skating on flat ground in front of the [Olympic] village because we love to do that … our board is attached to us.”

U.S. men’s street skateboarding team member Jake Ilardi, 24, experienced firsthand evidence of the growing popularity of the sport when traveling back home from Tokyo after his Olympic competition.

“When I was on the way back from Japan going home to Sarasota, this lady came up to me and said, ‘Hey, we watched the Olympics this weekend and my daughter wanted to skateboard because she saw you skateboarding,’” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow, no way!’ and she showed me the picture of her daughter who had just got a brand-new skateboard.”

However, the inaugural Olympic skateboarding competition in Tokyo also drew some criticism.

The Olympic skatepark was outdoors, without substantial protection from the elements. The temperature in Tokyo was already hotter than 86 degrees Fahrenheit when the competition began July 25 and rose throughout the day.

“I feel like the weather did get to a lot of the competitors, and I don’t want to blame them. It got to me too,” Eaton, who is from Mesa, Arizona, said.

Chris Roberts, a former professional skateboarder and host of the skateboard interview podcast “The Nine Club,” said the outdoor competition site stands in contrast to events held by Street League Skateboarding, a professional street skateboarding competition, which typically holds competitions indoors.

“Having it in an indoor arena would be sick,” Duran said.

Mariah Duran of the United States competes in the women’s street skateboarding finals at the Tokyo Olympics on July 26, 2021.Ben Curtis / AP

Duran and Roberts also said that there’s room for improvement in the coverage street skateboarding received at the Olympics.

“For the people who wanted to tune in and watch, I know it was a little bit difficult to try to figure out how to do it,” Duran said.

Roberts said there also appeared to be a lack of focus on the athletes, as compared to other high-profile sports.

“I think they really missed the mark on putting skateboarding personalities in the right place,” he said. “I feel like when I’m watching other sports in the Olympics, they’re talking about the sport and giving backstories of people and this and that, and these pieces that they do on them, and I just didn’t see any of that.”

Still, Ilardi pointed to the exposure the sport gains by being included in the Olympics.

“I just hope it grows skateboarding,” he said. “My main goal going to the Olympics wasn’t even the medal, it was to inspire more people to skateboard.”

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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