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