Women in X Games to Get More Prize Money

The Associated Press
Friday, August 4, 2006; 7:03 AM

LOS ANGELES -- The X Games have been the premier showcase for action sports for a dozen years, taking the world of skateboards, BMX and motocross to dizzying heights.

The only problem, at least in the eyes of some, was that it was only the men who have been allowed a place in the spotlight. The women? While they get a relatively fair shake in the winter version of X _ equal billing in snowboard and ski events _ the summers have been a bit frigid.

But that's starting to change.

A group of women skateboarders met with John Skipper, ESPN executive vice president for content, on the eve of this year's X Games and made quite impression.

Instead of a purse totaling $8,000 for women's Street and Vert, they got a deal that pays $15,000 for first, $10,000 for second and $5,000 for third at this year's event. They also laid the groundwork for the women to get some TV time for the first time at next year's X Games.

"We just want to be heard," said Cara-Beth Burnside of Encinitas, Calif, the gold medalist in this year's Vert contest. "We believe in it (women's skateboarding) and we just want to make changes for the future so we can make sure there is a future."

Frustrated with the lack of attention and equality the women were getting at the X Games, Burnside and Mimi Knoop, this year's Vert silver medalist, asked to have a meeting with Skipper on Wednesday. They met in a meeting room at the Staples Center, one of two X Games sites this year, and to the women's surprise, Skipper listened.

"We had a very positive meeting and we listened to their feedback," Skipper said in a statement. "Just as we have grown women's sports in general and for Winter X, we plan to do so for Summer X."

While women have been participating in sports such as snowboarding and surfing right alongside the men, they've been slow to take to the street decks.

Of the 10.3 million skateboarders in the United States, only 2.6 million (25 percent) are women, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. It's not a huge percentage, but still a big increase from just three years ago, when women made up 15 percent of the total number of skaters.

"This is something that's very extraordinary and it's just the beginning," said Karen Jones of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who took bronze in Vert this year. "We need to make people aware of what's going on."

A big step in that direction was getting ESPN's attention.

By landing a bigger payout, the women have made it easier for them to afford skating full-time and given hope to the up-and-comers that a career in skateboarding is now possible.

The TV exposure will add more buzz to the sport, get more girls on boards. And if you grow the sport, more people will have to pay attention, including sponsors and TV executives _ the same blueprint that made the X Games so big.

"A lot of the girls don't have a lot of sponsors that can really help them," Burnside said. "By having it televised, it's going help everyone and help the sport grow for the girls."

© 2006 The Associated Press