COVID uncertainty isn't distracting Australian Keegan Palmer from skateboarding Olympic dreams

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Teen Aussie Olympic skateboarder Keegan Palmer (2:19)

Australia's 17-year-old Olympic skateboard medal hopeful Keegan Palmer in action. (2:19)

For the last three months, Australian skateboarder Keegan Palmer should have been training and preparing for Olympic qualification and world series skate competitions. Instead, the 17-year-old has spent most of lockdown at his family's San Diego home like many teenagers, playing Xbox, completing chores and sneaking out to the local skate park.

Considered Australia's best hope of a medal in skateboarding's Olympic debut, Palmer has spent the last four years preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. However, the COVID-19 outbreak has put a pause on everything and forced a 12 month postponement of the games.

While the delay could be beneficial for Palmer and his competitors, training has been close to impossible for the young athlete and any earlier conditioning will have been lost during the three-month delay. However, Palmer remains hopeful he could become a more mature skater and gain up to four months of extra training time.

"I don't really know yet, if it's going to help or not," Palmer told ESPN from his San Diego home via Zoom. "Since we haven't been able to go outside and we won't be able to travel anywhere until next year, it's [preparations] almost on pause.

"I was pretty bummed and everyone was trying to convince me it was good because I had more time to prepare but now everyone's thinking 'what can we do' because no one can actually prepare and get that extra time to get ready."

Born in the USA, Palmer moved with his family to the Gold Coast at an early age and took on the surf board like so many young people in Queensland. But it was the skateboard that captured Palmer's attention. He developed a passion and love for the sport early, and while he still takes to the surf regularly, his dreams of becoming a pro surfer have changed to becoming the world's best skateboarder.

"I just have such a passion and love for it, because I love learning new things. In skating you learn something new pretty much every single day, and I guess that's why I love it.

"I started surfing before I started skating and I really wanted to be a pro skater and surfer, but I took off in my skating - I started doing really well in contests, I won a couple and I just put all my focus into skating.

"If surfing's still there when I complete everything I want to do in skating then I guess I'll do it, but I'm just really focused on the skating part and just surf for fun with friends and family."

A dual-citizen, the Oakley athlete had the choice of representing his birth place or the country where he'd spent his childhood learning to skate and surf. In the end, the decision was easy.

"The reason that I wanted to represent Australia in the Olympics was I'd pretty much learnt how to do everything in Australia.

"I learnt how to skate, how to surf, I went to school in Australia - literally everything that I've grown up to do has been in Australia - especially skateboarding.

"It was meant to be and right to do it there, nowhere else."

Currently ranked fifth on the World Skateboarding rankings, Palmer has essentially secured his place for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics even if no further qualifications can take place in 2020. However, that doesn't mean the 17-year-old isn't confused by team selections and the qualification process.

According to World Skate, each country can select a team of 12 athletes, six men and six women, with a maximum of three members per event, park or street. Each event will comprise of exactly 20 athletes: the three highest placed in the 2021 season World Skate World Skateboarding Championship events will directly qualify, sixteen will qualify through the Olympics World Skateboarding Rankings and one place will be allocated to the host nation. If any quota places aren't confirmed by a nation, they can be reallocated.

It's understandable how the process could confuse a 17-year-old.

"The position I'm sitting in, fifth, before coronavirus hit, I didn't have to do any more qualifications to qualify for the Olympics, I was set. I would only be nervous if they took away everyone's points and we'd have to reset for next year.

"When I placed third at the first [qualifying] event, I was the only Australian to qualify in the top 20, which was really cool for me because that meant I was the only Australian qualified for the Olympics."

One of the youngest on the world skating circuit, Palmer will also be one of the youngest athletes on the Australian Olympic team. But after joining the Vans Park series - the biggest park skating event on the pro skating tour - at just 13, Palmer doesn't believe the weight of a nation will be too much on his young shoulders.

"I don't feel pressure in skating as much as I used to. It's so much fun for me now and I don't get nervous around big crowds when I skate; the bigger the crowd I feel like the better I perform. I like the energy of skating when there's a lot of people watching.

"I don't really get nervous in the contest because I've practiced, I've trained hard and I know what I have to do, I'm completely fine, I'm in a good headspace and I'm ready to do what I have to do."

Despite the distraction of COVID-19 and the uncertainty of when professional skating can return, Palmer's focus remains on next year's Olympics and the work that needs to be done post lockdown.

"What's next is getting straight back on the skate board, and as soon as we're allowed international travel I'll probably be on the first flight back to Australia. I'll get full body scans to make sure I'm healthy and everything's ok, and then head down and straight back into training."