JANET STREET-PORTER: Congratulations to brave Sky – I just hope her parents aren’t letting her fly too high, too soon for her own good
Sky Brown has made history – at just 13 years old, she’s the youngest British competitor ever to win an Olympic medal.
I celebrate her achievement and dedication. It’s impossible not to admire her tenacity and undoubted bravery – returning to the sport after a fall in June last year which saw her airlifted to hospital after breaking her hand, her wrist, cracking her skull and blackening her eye.
Yes, Sky has got more guts than most people decades older – but shouldn’t we also worry about what she’s giving up to pursue her dream?
All the things normal teenagers do, like hanging out with their friends?
Sky Brown (pictured in action at the Olympics at Ariake Urban Park in Tokyo) has made history – at just 13 years old, she’s the youngest British competitor ever to win an Olympic medal
Sky (pictured with her bronze medal) was born in Japan (her mother Meiko is Japanese) but lives in California. She has chosen to represent Team GB because her father Stu is British
Sporting heroes aren’t like the rest of us. These Olympics have proved that behind so many of our young medallists, there is another team – mum and dad.
The people who encouraged their children to succeed from a very young age – sometimes while they were still at primary school. Parents who worked every hour they could to fund their child’s training.
The parents who drove their sons and daughters, fed them, repaired their kit and supported them through the months and years or effort which are necessary to be selected to represent your country.
In the case of Sky, I find it incredible that her mum and dad allowed her back on a skateboard after she woke up in a hospital bed following that fall in June 2020.
But this is no ordinary teenager; Sky was born in Japan (her mother Meiko is Japanese) but lives in California.
She has chosen to skate for the UK because her dad Stu is a British citizen, but she’s still idolised by young Japanese fans and has a huge following on social media.
Sky sees herself as a role model for other young women and says: ‘I want to be the little girl going the highest, and some girls thinking if she can do it I can do it too”.
She is said to feel ‘British’ but her connection to Blighty is somewhat tenuous, although she claims to ‘kind of’ know the words to the national anthem.
We probably shouldn’t be too judgmental about Sky – but surely her parents must worry about what the future holds.
Her mental strength, for starters – when you’ve won on Olympic medal at 13, will everything you achieve afterwards seem like a second act?
Sky (picture from her Instagram) has sponsorship deals worth millions of dollars
How do you top an Olympic Bronze medal, other than win gold or silver next time around?
And if that doesn’t happen, is your sporting career over by the time you’re not even out of your teens or able to vote?
And if your child fell on their head so badly they ended up hospitalized, wouldn’t you think twice about allowing them to continue practising a sport which might end up causing long-term damage?
It’s taken until recently for the medical profession to admit the scale of long-term damage caused by impact sports as the number of many footballers and rugby players who have suffered brain damage and dementia grows.
Of course, Sky wears a protective helmet, but – just like Charlotte Worthington the UK’s BMX freestyle gold medallist, who astounded the judges with a never-previously attempted 360-degree back flip – she seems determined to push physical boundaries to remain at the top of her sport.
As for her social life, Sky will be missing out on forming relationships with kids who are not in her small bubble of fellow skateboarders.
She will be travelling constantly to compete, and what will happen to her education?
Her parents encouraged her ambitions, but was it in her long-term best interests?
Sky has sponsorship deals worth millions of dollars, but could that be because she is young and cute and advertisers are targeting a particular market of young impressionable kids? Will these sponsors be so keen when she turned 20 or so?
The movie industry is littered with child stars who found that fame eluded them as they matured.
Some found life in the spotlight had a dark side, with drink and drugs freely available, not to mention hangers on and people who managed to spirit away their hard-won cash.
Every parent wants the best for their child, but at what age do you decide that your toddler is going to be a world class cyclist, runner, tennis player or judo master?
And will the hours of training, the eating plans, the constant round of competitions and the inevitable disappointment and failures, be outweighed by the pleasure your child gets from practising their skills at a particular sport?
Can you be supportive without being a disciplinarian?
Andre Agassi’s compelling autobiography Open (the best record of a life in sport ever) takes his father to task for his strict discipline, which led to abandoning his formal education at 13 when dad decided to send him to board at a tennis academy in Florida, where he was lonely and miserable.
Agassi rebelled by taking drugs, partying and being a brat. He ended up hating himself and tennis – even though he made millions on the way.
Serena and Venus Williams were coached from the age of four-and-a-half by their strict father (who later said he should have ‘waited a couple of years’- which shows a somewhat unique approach to child rearing).
Andre Agassi’s (pictured left in 2019) compelling autobiography Open (the best record of a life in sport ever) takes his father to task for his strict discipline, which led to abandoning his formal education at 13 when dad decided to send him to board at a tennis academy in Florida, where he was lonely and miserable. Agassi (pictured right in 1988) rebelled by taking drugs, partying and being a brat. He ended up hating himself and tennis – even though he made millions on the way
Serena and Venus Williams (pictured together at the Wimbledon final in 2009) were coached from the age of four-and-a-half by their strict father
Dad had already written out a 78-page plan for their future and was determined his girls would be champions. I wonder if they still find tennis enjoyable, or is it just a money-making business?
I don’t doubt that producing a world-class champion can mean parents have to make huge sacrifices – like David Morgan, whose daughter Amelie won bronze in the women’s team gymnastics.
David and his wife chose to live apart so that Amelie and her mum Kate could be near a training facility in Somerset, while David and Amelie’s brother Finlay stayed at home in Berkshire.
As a result, the couple decided to separate long-term, but say it hasn’t harmed their children.
What every parent needs to ask themselves is; am I encouraging my child in a sport to live out my own dream, or is it something they would choose anyway?
My own mum and dad were the ultimate pushy parents- nagging continuously until I had achieved A-levels and a place at college.
It was because they’d had to leave school at 14 and go out to earn money for their families that they projected all their ambitions onto me.
Although I loathed the focus on studying as a teenager, I can’t deny it’s brought me many rewards.
But if I’d been expected to risk life and limb flipping backwards on a skateboard I’d have been happy to settle for less.
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