Show will go on as theatre sets up stage outdoors

Pitlochry Theatre bids to get around restrictions - but other venues face a bleak summer.

STV News

A theatre is bidding to save its 70th anniversary celebrations by setting up stage outdoors for the summer.

For most venues, social-distancing rules and capacity restrictions have made putting on performances simply not worthwhile.

But the Pitlochry Festival Theatre has found a way around the pandemic problem by creating a new amphitheatre and bandstand.

Boasting a vast plot of picturesque land, looking out onto Ben Vrackie, the theatre hopes to offer arts lovers more to feast their eyes on than just what’s on stage.

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Artistic director Elizabeth Newman told STV News: “We are still here and gearing up to welcome audiences for the summer, but it has been a really challenging year.

“As soon as the two metres [distancing rule] became a reality we began to plan to move outdoors because that seemed the most likely option for audiences.

“We actually took the decision to prepare for not being able to produce theatre in the way that we’re used to until it becomes safe for audiences, which is why we’re going to be socially distanced outdoors.”

While the 70th anniversary celebrations aren’t quite what they were initially hoping for, the theatre has 17 shows planned, ranging from children’s favourite The Wind in the Willows to David Greig’s new play, Adventures with the Painted People, and evenings of musicals and opera concerts.

Curtains remain closed

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Other theatres are not so fortunate, with the Tron in Glasgow recently cancelling its 2021 pantomime.

Meanwhile, Iain Gordon, manager at the city’s Pavilion Theatre, told STV he thinks it will be September before shows can realistically return to the stage there.

Andrew Panton, artistic director of Dundee Rep theatre, which also remains shut at the moment, said: “We would love to see, in the next few weeks, the social distancing come down to one metre.

“Then very quickly we’d work with the Scottish Government to find a safe way to lose that distance completely.

“All we want to do is throw these doors open and see audiences in here, chatting at the bar and heading into the auditorium, seeing the work, but we want to do that when we can do that safely.”

Johnson snubs Sturgeon invite to discuss Covid recovery

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had invited Johnson to meet at her official Edinburgh residence, Bute House.

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Boris Johnson won't be meeting Nicola Sturgeon during his visit to Scotland.

Boris Johnson has snubbed an invitation from Nicola Sturgeon to meet during his visit to Scotland this week.

The First Minister had invited Johnson to meet at her official Edinburgh residence, Bute House, to discuss the UK’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the Prime Minister has replied to Sturgeon in a letter – posted on Twitter by a Sky News journalist – instead aiming to focus on wider discussions at a later point.

In his letter, the Prime Minister said: “As I noted when we last met, I am keen to arrange an in-person meeting with you and the other first ministers and deputy first minister to build on the constructive discussions we had earlier this summer.

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“We agreed then that we should establish a structured forum for ongoing engagement between the Government and the devolved administrations to deliver tangible outcomes in the interest of people throughout the UK.

“There is much for us to discuss as all parts of the UK work together on our shared priority of recovering from the pandemic.

“I understand our officials have made good progress on the details of this since we last spoke.”

Johnson added: “I am particularly keen that we work closely together on the vaccination booster campaign this autumn which will be crucial as we continue to tackle the pandemic.

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“The UK Government has procured millions of vaccines for the entire United Kingdom and we look forward to working with the Scottish Government as we roll out booster jabs in line with JCVI’s advice.

“The UK Government is working closely with the devolved Scottish Government on a variety of different issues.

“I know that you have been meeting regularly with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, but I look forward to meeting with you soon and working together in the interests of people in all parts of our country.”

Sturgeon acknowledged in her own letter on Monday she and Johnson “differ politically”, but stressed the Scottish and UK governments must “work together where we can”.

It comes after she confirmed most of Scotland’s remaining coronavirus restrictions are to be scrapped from Monday – which she hailed as “perhaps the most significant date so far” in the pandemic.

From August 9, Scotland will move “beyond level zero” with the removal of most restrictions such as physical distancing and the size of social gatherings.

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.

Covid jabs for 16 and 17-year-olds ‘could be approved in days’

Labour has said the government must have a plan to roll out coronavirus vaccines to the age group.

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Vaccine: Labour have said the government must have a plan to vaccinate the age group.

Labour has said the Government must have a plan to roll out coronavirus vaccines to 16 and 17-year-olds following suggestions experts were about to approve the move.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was “veering towards expecting” the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) would soon outline updated guidance for young people having the coronavirus jab.

Speaking to MSPs on Tuesday, Sturgeon had suggested the decision could come as soon as Wednesday.

She said: “We are waiting on JCVI advice. When I say ‘we’, I am obviously referring to the Scottish Government, but the UK, Welsh and Northern Irish governments are in the same position.”

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Sturgeon said the four chief medical officers across the UK had written to the JCVI asking them to look again at vaccination advice for young people.

She said: “First, as a priority, I am particularly hopeful that we will see updated recommendations for 16 and 17-year-olds.

“I am hoping for – possibly veering towards expecting – updated advice from the JCVI in the next day or so.”

The JCVI has so far ruled out the mass vaccination of healthy children, but under existing guidance young people aged 16 to 17 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious Covid infection should have already been offered a jab.

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Children aged 12 to 15 with certain conditions which make them vulnerable to coronavirus can also access the vaccine, as can those aged 12 to 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person, such as a parent or grandparent.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said secondary school pupils will still be required to wear masks when schools return even if Covid vaccinations are extended to 16 and 17-year-olds.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Wednesday, he said: “I do hope that that is the position we hear from the JCVI today, we have been pressing for that, and have made a strong case.

“Obviously we’ll take that very forward really very swiftly to make sure we can make early progress on that.

“And working on a four nations basis about vaccine supplies we will obviously make the quickest progress we possibly can do.”

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty previously said there was a balance to be struck between vaccinating young people who do not tend to suffer severely from the virus, and ensuring their lives were not disrupted.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “With the JCVI apparently about to give the green light to vaccinating 16-year-olds, ministers need to ensure plans are in place to roll out this vital next stage of vaccination while ensuring parents have all the facts and information they need.”


Police chief stands by response to Rangers fans disorder

Chief superintendent Mark Sutherland says scenes of violence in George Square were 'not a good day for the city'.

Euan Cherry via SNS Group
Rangers fans celebrating Scottish Premiership triumph in George Square in May.

The commander of Glasgow’s police has said he stands by the response to “serious public disorder” during Rangers fans’ title celebrations in George Square – but admitted the scenes of violence were “not a good day for the city”.

Chief superintendent Mark Sutherland, divisional commander for Greater Glasgow, said that heavy handed policing can provoke crowd conflict, rather than prevent it, and said officers had initially encouraged the crowd to disperse.

Thousands of fans flocked to George Square in May to celebrate Rangers’ success despite Covid restrictions. More than 40 people have now been arrested following crowd trouble.

Chief superintendent Sutherland said: “We will always try a graduated response, where we start with the lowest level of tactic and begin to escalate that where appropriate.

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“I still stand by the police action that was taken on that particular day and in most, indeed all, events in Glasgow. 

“We always try to make sure our policing response is proportionate, that it is necessary, that it doesn’t cause a situation to become worse rather than better.”

He was speaking during a presentation to the Safe Glasgow Partnership, which includes city councillors, on policing protests.

The partnership heard how officers must consider the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including freedom of assembly and expression.

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“Public order and public safety policing isn’t easy,” he said, adding a key objective was to “make sure the police action doesn’t escalate the disorder”.

He said heavy handed policing can provoke crowd conflict. “That’s something we are very mindful of as we progress through such events.”

Up until about 8pm, fans had largely gathered to celebrate their team’s victory, CS Sutherland added.

Although the gathering was “extremely unpopular at the time of a Covid pandemic”, the intention of those who gathered “was actually largely peaceful for a long period of time”.

“There was some low level damage, there was some low level disruption to the community, but nothing to the extent where it would have been proportionate for a strong show of force by the police.”

Later in the evening, disorder, damage and disruption to the community “began to bubble up”.

Attempting to prevent the crowd tipping into disorder “sometimes means unfortunately that the police are a step behind what’s happening in front of us”.

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He believes police interfered with people’s rights “at the appropriate time” and “once the actions of the crowd were sufficiently violent and it was right for us to do that”.

He added: “Policing and managing large crowds and managing risks quite simply isn’t easy. That day, while I stand by the decisions made, it was not a good day for the city.

“It was not a good day for everybody who is involved in keeping Glasgow safe and trying to make Glasgow an attractive and usable city.”

An independent advisory group, set up by the Scottish Police Authority, found the police approach had been “informed by, and consistent with, relevant human rights principles and considerations, in particular, lawfulness, necessity and proportionately”.

Chief superintendent Sutherland said: “We saw an unpopular event that caused disruption. In my view, it was still dealt with in a proportionate and necessary manner despite the unfortunate look and image that it had for the city.”

Story by local democracy reporter Drew Sandelands

Free early learning and childcare provision to be expanded

Nicola Sturgeon said the expansion would help provide children with skills and confidence.

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Nicola Sturgeon visited a nursery in Stirling on Wednesday.

Every local authority in Scotland is now ready to deliver 1140 hours of free early learning and childcare (ELC) by the start of the new term, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

On a visit to Fallin Nursery in Stirling on Wednesday, the First Minister said the move would help to provide kids with skills and confidence ahead of starting school.

It will be available for all three and four-year-olds, as well as two-year-olds who need it the most.

The funded ELC of 1140 hours is an expansion from 600 hours, with work undertaken by the Scottish Government, local authorities and ELC providers.

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It is estimated that the expansion will benefit up to 130,000 children and save families childcare costs of about £4900 per child each year.

“All children deserve the best start in life,” said the First Minister.

“Providing access to free, high-quality early learning and childcare enriches children’s early years and provides them with skills and confidence for starting school and beyond.

“It also supports parents’ ability to work, train or study.

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“I am delighted to announce that every local authority in Scotland has assured us they are ready to deliver the 1140 hours offer by the start of the new term – a truly transformational offer that will benefit children and families all over the country.

“Getting to this point, especially given the challenges of the pandemic, has taken a mammoth effort and I’d like to thank local authorities and private and voluntary sector providers for helping to make it happen.”

Early Years Scotland chief executive Jane Brumpton welcomed the announcement.

“Children and families will now have access to more funded hours of early learning and childcare than ever before,” she said.

“We know that investing in the earliest years of a child’s life is crucial to a child’s positive development, and has long-lasting impacts on outcomes in health, education, and positive life chances.

“Early Years Scotland very much welcomes this duty coming into force, and will work closely with Scottish Government and our members to support the rollout of this important policy.”


Microwave sterilisation ‘could speed up ambulance cleaning’

Engineer came up with the idea after sterilising his newborn son's baby bottle in the microwave.

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Cleaning: New technique could help speed up ambulance cleaning, scientists say.

The process of cleaning ambulances and hospitals could be dramatically sped up by a new microwave sterilisation technique developed by scientists in Scotland.

Microwave engineers, infectious disease specialists and polymer scientists from the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University and the University of Strathclyde have teamed up as part of the research.

Currently it can take around 30 to 40 minutes to disinfect a single ambulance with conventional chemicals – taking vehicles out of action for long periods and putting pressure on emergency services.

However the new method uses electromagnetic waves, antennas, sensor beacons and a liquid layer to rapidly heat up and sterilise surfaces – which can all be done from a safe distance rather than touching anything during cleaning.

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The team was led Dr Symon Podilchak, a professional engineer and senior lecturer of radio frequency technology from the University of Edinburgh and an honorary associate professor at Heriot-Watt.

He said: “I got the idea over a year ago when sterilising baby bottles for my newborn son using a microwave oven. It was when the Covid-19 pandemic was just starting in the UK in early 2020.

“I realised that if bottles could be sterilised in just a few minutes and were safe for a newborn child then it was possible to scale the technique for infected surfaces.

“However, significant research was required to determine the relative distance between the surface and the antenna whilst ensuring safe power levels.

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“I also figured out that it would be better to target and focus the microwave beam to the areas most likely to be affected.

“To do this, I reused a technique that I originally developed for charging mobile phones wirelessly.”

He then connected with Professor Marc Desmulliez, a chartered engineer and physicist from Heriot-Watt University who previously developed a microwave powered, open-ended oven.

This device was able to deactivate a live coronavirus (strain 229E) at a relatively low temperature of 60 degrees celsius in just 30 seconds.

Prof Desmulliez said: “The beauty of this new technique is that the surfaces sterilised are not being degraded which was one of the key challenges found with using UV light or aerosol techniques.

“The resulting microwave device can also be portable, and this means it can be applied in multiple other applications beyond ambulances and operating theatres.

“It could be used to sterilise dinner tables in restaurants or clean train or airplane tables and seats prior to welcoming new customers.”

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The team funded the initial research themselves using existing lab equipment and goodwill, and they are now seeking funding to manufacture a device that can be installed in ambulances as a proof-of-concept demonstration.

Their study is published in the IEEE Journal of Electromagnetics, RF and Microwaves in Medicine and Biology.

Construction under way on new £9m life sciences centre

It will provide facilities for businesses to work collaboratively with academia on innovative projects.

University of the Highlands and Islands via Email
Professor Todd Walker, PhD student Ronie Walters, Alistair Dodds CBE, PhD student Manuel Valdivia and Frank Reid.

Construction work is now under way on a new £9m life sciences innovation centre at Inverness Campus in the Highlands.

The 2500m² building will provide facilities for businesses to work collaboratively with academia on innovative life science projects.

It will provide access to high-tech research equipment and lab conditions for collaborative research, particularly in the fields of medical nanotechnology and active health.

The centre will also support wider collaboration in research, innovation and commercialisation with NHS Highland, which is currently developing the National Treatment Centre Highland on the campus.

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Together, this is forecast to create around 190 jobs.

The partnership project – between the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) – has benefitted from funding from both the Inverness and Highland City Region Deal and the European Regional Development Fund.

Designed by Austin-Smith: Lord, the construction work is being carried out by Robertson Construction Northern.

Professor Todd Walker, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of the Highlands and Islands, said: “It is exciting to see the construction phase of this collaborative venture get under way.

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“The development will increase our research in fields such as medical nanotechnology and active health and will help us to provide greater support to the region’s life sciences sector.

“We hope to create a facility of national significance which will bring economic benefits to our region through innovation, commercialisation, company and job creation and the attraction and retention of talent.”

Alistair Dodds CBE, chair of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, added: “This is a great milestone for Inverness Campus and for the region’s life sciences sector.

“The commercial opportunities, high value career options and innovation and research initiatives that will stem from this development will have region-wide benefits.

“Importantly, it will help attract and retain talent and sustain populations, which of course is crucial to regional prosperity.

“I am delighted to see work get under way and very much look forward to seeing the new life sciences innovation centre take shape.”


Ministers urged to back right to recovery to tackle drug deaths

More than 1300 people died in Scotland last year as a result of drugs misuse.

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Angela Constance made a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

The Scottish Government has been urged to “be bold” and back a proposal to ensure that those struggling with addiction or substance misuse are guaranteed access to treatment.

The call was made by Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross, whose party has raised the proposal under their new ‘right to recovery’ Bill.

It seeks to enshrine in law the right to addiction and recovery services, including short and long-term residential rehabilitation.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, Scotland’s drugs policy minister Angela Constance indicated that the proposal would be given “serious and fair” consideration, but stressed the need to see the detail of the legislation.

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In a statement, Constance also announced funding for a new national facility for families affected by drug use, with £250m to be invested over the next five years.

It comes after statistics published last week indicated that 1339 people died in Scotland last year as a result of drug misuse – the highest annual figure on record.

Ross raised the issue during a statement on the actions being taken to reduce the number of drugs deaths in Scotland.

“Words are not going to solve this crisis, people need action and they expect to hear from the First Minister,” he said.

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“For the seventh year in a row, drug deaths have peaked. Our drug death rate is close to four times higher than any other country in Europe.

“In Scotland, if you live in a poorer area, you are 18 times more likely to die from drugs. Behind all those shocking statistics are lost loved ones and broken families.

“When is the First Minister and this government going to wake up? When will she stop abandoning our communities? When is she going to listen to those on the frontline?”

He continued: “We published our proposal for a right to recovery Bill and it’s with Parliament’s team being prepared for its launch.

“It’s being developed by frontline experts to guarantee everyone gets the treatment they need. It’s backed by seven recovery organisations and apparently, SNP MSPs.

“It would cut through the broken system and save lives. People who’ve lost family members and close friends to drugs deserve a straight answer.

“So, if the First Minister won’t won’t come to Parliament today and give a commitment, will the minister?

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“Quite simply, will the Scottish Government be bold? Back our Bill.”

Constance said that she would not give a blanket commitment to the Scottish Conservative leader.

She responded: “I know that Mr Ross has not been in this Parliament as long as I have been and I appreciate that he may not know me very well.

“But, I don’t play games and I’m not remotely interested in playground politics.

“With respect to his proposal to enshrine the right to treatment, let me be clear once again – I will of course, as will the First Minister, give serious consideration to any proposition, serious and fair consideration.

She continued: “With respect, I have to say to Mr Ross I have still to see the Bill, I am not going to give him a blind or blanket commitment.

“It is my job to look at the detail because scrutiny works both ways and bearing in mind, I have made a number of detailed commitments around investment and delivery to this Parliament and of course have the Government’s manifesto to implement.

“(If) Mr Ross wants me to implement his idea and his manifesto commitments, it’s imperative that I see the detail of that work.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “The minister is right to say that this is Scotland’s national shame, but she must recognise it is the Scottish National Party’s shame too.

“We need urgent action to save lives. We can’t ignore the link between Scotland’s higher drugs death rate and our suicide rates.

“We need a coherent strategy and a plan from this government.”


Most Covid restrictions to end next week – but masks remain

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement in a statement to the Scottish Parliament.

SNS Group

Almost all of Scotland’s remaining Covid-19 restrictions are to end from Monday, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, the First Minister said that a number of mitigation measures will remain in place.

Sturgeon said that the lifting of restrictions on August 9 would include an end to social distancing and limits on the size of social gatherings.

However, the wearing of face coverings in some public spaces will continue, with Sturgeon saying that they are “likely to be mandated in law for some time to come.”

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Secondary school pupils will be required to wear face masks during lessons when schools return, as well as one-metre social distancing, which will be reviewed six weeks into the new term.

The requirement to self-isolate after close contact with a Covid-positive person will also be dropped in Scotland if a negative test result is received, whilst the use of vaccine passports for access to some events are under consideration.

Contact tracing of positive cases will remain, pubs and restaurants must continue to collect customer details and home working will continue to be advised.

Sturgeon said that while the Government expects the return of large scale events, for a “limited period”, organisers of outdoor events of more than 5000, and indoor events of more than 2000, will have to apply for permission to their local authority.

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Despite the easing of restrictions, the First Minister urged people to continue to take care and caution.

She said: “This change is significant and hard-earned. The sacrifices everyone has made over the past year-and-a-half can never be overstated.

“However, while this move will restore a substantial degree of normality, it is important to be clear that it does not signal the end of the pandemic or a return to life exactly as we knew it before Covid struck.

“Declaring freedom from, or victory over, this virus is premature.

“The harm the virus can do, including through the impact of long Covid, should not be underestimated. And its ability to mutate may yet pose us real challenges.

“So even as we make this move today, care and caution will still be required, and that is why I want to focus now on the protections and guidance that will remain in place after August 9.”

Sturgeon also did not rule out the re-imposition of coronavirus restrictions if needed in order to keep the country safe.

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“We all hope – I know I certainly do – that the restrictions we lift next Monday will never again have to be re-imposed. But no-one can guarantee that,” she told the Scottish Parliament.

“This virus remains a threat – and as we enter winter, it may well pose challenges for us again.

“So as we have done throughout, the Government will seek to take whatever action is necessary to keep the country safe.

“But as has also been the case throughout, we all have a part to play in keeping the virus under control.”


Teenage skateboarder Sky Brown makes history at Olympics

The 13-year-old becomes Great Britain’s youngest Olympic medallist after taking bronze in the women’s skateboard park event.

Ezra Shaw / Staff via Getty Images
Sky Brown made history by winning bronze in the women's skateboard park event.

Thirteen-year-old Sky Brown has become Great Britain’s youngest Olympic medallist after taking the bronze medal in the women’s skateboard park event at the Ariake Urban Arena in Tokyo.

In a remarkable finish, Brown kick flipped her way into the history books by posting a score of 56.47 in her third and final attempt to come in behind Sakura Yosozumi and her 12-year-old Japanese counterpart Kokona Hiraki.

Yosozumi, 19, topped the podium with a score of 60.09, while Hiraki’s 59.04 proved enough for her to claim silver – eclipsing Brown to become the youngest Olympic medallist in 85 years.

Brown’s achievement is all the more stunning considering the fractured skull and broken bones she suffered during a horrific fall in training last year.

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Born in Miyazaki, Japan, to a Japanese mother and British father, Brown competed at the US Open in 2016 at the age of eight, and first elected to compete for Great Britain in 2018.

She arrived with plenty of profile, having won the US version of Dancing With The Stars: Juniors in 2018, and expressed her ambition to achieve the almost unprecedented feat of competing in two sports – skateboarding and surfing – at the Games, something from which she was subsequently dissuaded.

In 2019, Brown finished third at the World Skateboarding Championship, and the following year she effectively secured her Olympic qualification by picking up a bronze medal at the Park World Championships in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Last month, she warmed up for the Games by winning gold in the prestigious X Games, although neither of her key Olympic challengers, Okamoto and Hiraki, were present.

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