National Geographic Traveller (UK)


Although Olympic stadiums are erected amid great jubilation, a number fall into disuse and disrepair after the Games finish. In Athens, however, skaters are reclaiming abandoned spaces and inviting young refugees to join them. Words: Hannah Bailey


It’s summer in Athens, and already too hot to wander, particular­ly in open spaces as dusty and derelict as where we stand now. Not so long ago, this forgotten place would have been filled with raucous crowds of people — but today, we’ve just the sound of our own footsteps for company. It’s been like this for years.

We’re in the abandoned rapids of the canoe and kayak slalom — a place once used by Olympic athletes in pursuit of sporting victory. In 2004, this was their venue, the Hellinikon Olympic Canoe/Kayak Slalom Centre, a vast concrete expanse with a stadium able to seat more than 7,000 spectators. Once flowing with salt water and kayaks, it was abandoned just 10 years after constructi­on. But there’s one sporting activity perfectly suited to making use of smooth concrete and dry spaces — skateboard­ing. The sport is widely believed to have been started by American surfers on ‘flat days’ (days without waves), and it was then propelled to popularity after the California drought of 1976, as ‘sidewalk surfers’ moved from skating streets to riding in empty, back garden swimming pools. This transition to skating on smooth concrete made its mark on the scene, paving the way for the creation of skateparks around the world today.

And things are changing again, as the world’s biggest competitiv­e stage becomes the sport’s next platform. At the reschedule­d Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the discipline­s of street and park skateboard­ing made their debut. It’s an exposure that many of the sport’s core participan­ts feel isn’t really in the spirit of skateboard­ing — one of freedom and individual­ism.


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