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GENDER AND OTHER ISSUES

Sarah Burke: driving force for equity in Winter's X Games

Pipe Dreams

By Ashlie Beckham
For the Women's Sport Foundation

Canadian Sarah Burke is pushing limits in the halfpipe and out, as one of the driving forces behind women's freestyle skiing's inclusion and equity in the Winter X Games.

Sarah Burke is the most decorated female X Games superpipe skier and considered by some the best female freestyle skier in the world. A native of Midland, Ontario, Burke lives and trains in Mammoth, Calif. Because there were few women's specific events as recently as 2003, Burke competed against men just to have the chance to compete. "They are all really great guys. They don't let you baby yourself when you crash," said Burke, who personifies that tough mentality. In a single season she tore her right Medial Collateral Ligament while competing as the only woman at the U.S. Open Big Air, then a week later ripped her meniscus in her left knee. She still won four of the five contests she entered that year, with her only second-place finish the day after she tore her MCL.

Burke's impact goes beyond just the podium. In addition to her four U.S. Open titles and Global X gold, Burke is the biggest reason medals were even up for grabs for women's ski superpipe in Winter X Nine. The first time she saw skiing in the X Games she started her one-woman mission with an e-mail to have women included in the event. That was seven years ago. "I finally found the right person to talk to and said 'let me be a part of it in any way I can, whether its forerunning, or being another voice on the design panel.' For me it was to get my foot in the door." Burke now sits on the design team for every major invitational ski competition in the world. "I was persistent and aggressive, but I didn't want to make anyone angry or else they won't do anything."

At Winter X Nine, ski superpipe athletes, both male and female, pushed the edge of their sport. Countless faceplants on icy pipes and hitting tricks none of their competitors could land. The winning man walked away with $20,000 for his efforts. The winning woman? $2,000. There's no zero missing. The winning woman was paid 10% of what the winning man was paid. And second place? $1,100. That is what Winter X Nine silver medalist Sarah Burke walked away with. "That doesn't even cover being out there a week to train, let alone transportation and hotel. I mean come on," said Burke.

And who can blame her dismay? Burke's livelihood comes from sponsors and victories at invitational events. Yell too loud, complain too much, and you might not see an invitation next year. A chance at $2,000 is better than no chance. And as the unofficial ambassador of women's ski superpipe to the biggest international competitions Burke shoulders a tremendous amount of responsibility. "There have always been girls there to compete, but it has been mostly me doing the talking." Her sport cannot afford to have her blacklisted.

From her experience as both a competitor and ambassador, Burke believes that one thing will take women's ski superpipe to the next level. "They need to put us on the same level as the guys. Watch what's happening with snowboarding. The women are killing it now, and that's because they were put on an equal level with men in terms of purse and exposure."

And why would they not be equal? Is the ice 90% less hard when it hits her forehead? Are her training hours one to every 10 of a man's? Does she push her fear envelop 10% as far over the edge as her male counterparts? Clearly she does not. The X Games and other events must honor her effort, commitment and risk. "Why would you want to huck your body 15 feet out of an 18-foot half-pipe for $2,000 that you may not even get?" Burke asked. "Twenty grand. That would be nice. I'd give it a shot for that."

 

 



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