Earlier this week, the top women riders in BMX announced on Instagram that after 11 years of making appearances at X Games, they won’t be attending summer X Games in Minneapolis. Their hopes of finally getting an actual competition at X Games 2019 for Women’s BMX Park with medals and prize money where met with an offer to do another demo—they did a demo in 2018, and “practice sessions” for the four years prior. With close to 20 years of BMX to her name, Nina Buitrago is a lifer. She has selflessly paved the way for today’s generation of women riders with her relentless drive to make equal opportunities for women in BMX. Nina has been a diplomat for the women and has been dealing with X Games directly for years, doing everything in her power to get them a chance to compete. Despite the inclusion of Women’s BMX competitions at Vans BMX Pro Cup, FISE, and the 2020 Olympics, the mother of all extreme sports contests, X Games, is rolling out another Summer X sans a Women’s BMX competition.
Will the message of this boycott be the tipping point for X Games? Will the women get to compete? Probably, but it’s complicated. We caught up with Nina and then had a conversation with X Games, as well. Below is the prepared statement X Games provided—the same statement that has been circulated to other media outlets.
Specific sports disciplines are reviewed and adjusted regularly based on many factors, including participation levels, competitive levels, relevance, programming needs, overall industry schedules and top-level athlete availability – to name a few. The X Games has featured a complement of sports disciplines – more than 100 in total over our 25-year history – that have continuously been evaluated and evolved.
We‘ve enjoyed having Women’s BMX Park athletes at X Games in recent years, and unfortunately, women’s BMX Park athletes declined to participate in a third-consecutive year of demos at X Games Minneapolis. We will, however, continue to monitor how the women’s BMX landscape evolves for potential inclusion at future X Games events.
In summation, I totally support the women of BMX and I’d love to see them get their chance to compete in the X Games in a medaled event. I think they’ve put in the work and proved they’re ready—and as X Games “continues to monitor” the women’s progress I’m confident they’ll get their shot sometime soon. However, I also understand that X Games is much more than a BMX and skate contest. What some people seem to overlook is that X Games is a massive undertaking, it’s an internationally televised action sports event with a set amount of programming hours—like, a TV show. They need to balance multiple disciplines of moto, skate, and BMX—then there’s all the X-fest stuff that goes on outside the venue.
When I spoke with X Games, they explained their goal with each event is to present the most compelling and relevant sports and disciplines—and we’ve seen the results of that in the past with BMX when they took away Flatland in 2004 and Dirt in 2007—and then brought Dirt back again in 2013. That’s not to say that X Games doesn’t think Women’s BMX Park is relevant, because they wouldn’t invest the time and effort into doing the demos if they thought otherwise. It’s a little known fact that every single action sport that’s been added by the Olympics debuted first at X Games—including ten women’s disciplines. The Olympics beat X Games to the punch with Women’s BMX Park, but if the correlation between the two events stays on course, we’re sure to see women riders competing in the X Games in the very near future. That’s my two-cents, but more importantly, we got the bigger picture of the women of BMX and their history with X Games from Nina below…
What are your thoughts on the growth of women’s BMX in recent years?
Women’s BMX has grown so much over the years, much like women’s soccer. It’s truly become one of the more exciting categories in BMX to watch. At every major freestyle contest we are seeing a world’s-first for women—sometimes more than one—and with history constantly being made like this the sky is the limit. It makes my heart so happy to see so much progress in recent years hugely due to the surge of support from events like the Vans BMX Pro Cup, FISE, and now the 2020 Olympics. It’s been awesome being a part of it all and experiencing this journey with them. Women’s BMX is transforming beautifully, we have found the balance between competition and community and are able to stand together—it’s a wonderful thing. You really can feel the excitement and unique energy at every one of our events, it’s awesome.
What are some obstacles you still actively face (X Games aside)?
An obstacle we still have to face is that we still have a long way to go. We have had to work that much harder to get ourselves here, creating our own media, blogs, events and jams. The support we have now from cycling federations and sponsors thanks to the Olympics could have been thanks to X Games around ten years ago if they would have invested in us back then, and our progression would have taken off like it is now, but only that much sooner. We have a lot of progress to make up for, since having only a few amazing events a year to now having two different global series—Vans and FISE World—and a whole bunch of C-1 events for the points race to Tokyo to attend and then gapping straight to the biggest global stage in the world, the Olympics! No one wants to look bad out there, and everyone is stepping it up!! We all want to represent freestyle the fullest and put on a great show. There are so many other markets that could partner with us even just a little bit and would make the hugest impact on growing our support, as we get closer to the Olympics, we are seeing more endorsements starting to happen for athletes, hopefully the women soon, too.
Why do you think being in X Games is important?
In my opinion, having a medal event at the X Games for women is important for many reasons… It would inspire so many more people to start riding. The future generations who may not have seen BMX otherwise can see that everyone can ride BMX, not just the men. And the industry needs women! Women are the future of our sport! Some of the sponsored women have a bigger reach than some of the men, this has helped several companies increase their reach on social media, and in turn has afforded them to be able to support these women with travel and incentives to pursue their life as a true professional rider.
Judging from all the posts circulating Instagram last few days, did X Games just release the news that they weren’t planning to offer a Women BMX competition?
To be clear, X Games didn’t officially announce anything. Before our talks even started this year, they already gave me a heads up that there would be no medal event, and could offer a demo like last year. I got ahold of Angie [Marino], we got on a conference call with Mat Hoffman, our ESPN sport organizer—who I have been messaging for years about this to help us get a class—and he basically just expressed his frustrations and said sorry, it’s out of my hands. To be clear, they offered an appearance fee for each of the ladies, and four shared hotel rooms for 12 women. This seems really generous since a lot of the women had been flying themselves out on their own dime from New Zealand, Japan, Russia, Chile, Spain, Germany, and all over the USA to attend. Realistically, the appearance fee just isn’t enough to get some of the top women here. And with such insane schedules right now, and every year me trying to pump the women up like, “okay, if you can just make it over here for ONE more demo, we are so close to getting a medal event!” And then it not happening, again, they finally put their foot down this year when I broke the news about another demo, it’s just disheartening. Hannah Roberts, USA #1 ranked women in the world, took a stand and declined her invitation to last year’s demo, and that wasn’t statement enough, so this year we are standing with her. At this point most of the women who’ve been attending these events are going to be in the Olympics next year, and cannot risk themselves for another demo. That’s coming from either their personal choice or for some by request of their cycling federations and coaches.
You mentioned a number of reasons from X Games in the past,
including lack of room in the schedule, the level of riding isn’t where it
needs to be, lack of budget, etc… Did they cite a specific reason for this year?
I tried narrowing it down and clearly asking what the restricting factors were, was it something we were doing or not doing? Angie and I even worked on a women’s BMX marketing potential document—keep your eyes on thebloombmx.com to see it. Thinking okay, maybe they just need to see numbers and our fan base and social reach, that should help them see that we aren’t as underground as they make us out to be. We sent it in, but the feedback over the phone was the same as it’s been over the last few… “there’s not just one factor, it’s many” and it was all of the same we have heard before, ending the call with “sorry, there is just no possibility this year.” I was gutted to have to break the news, because none of those reasons really seem acceptable in our opinion. None of those excuses are what we want to hear, and the level not being where it needs to be, ouch! The fact that some of these women are video game characters, riding in Nitro Circus, performing in Hollywood films, have signature bike parts and gloves, and we are recognized by the Olympics as equals, it just doesn’t add up or make any sense.
Do you remember when women skate first got to compete at X Games? What was the discussion about women BMX at that point?
Yes, Women’s skateboarding taught us a lot, and has had our back since the beginning, even during their own struggles, organizing and protesting for equal prize money only to get two out of three of their events cut from the event. It’s crazy that “we cannot add another category unless it’s equal prize money is our policy since women’s skateboarding situation” around then has come up as an excuse for why there’s no budget for women’s BMX park. Just like they did, we have been working super hard, hosting our own jams, and clinics, making our own media, and it’s crazy to run into those women skaters now, and they are like, “wait what? You still don’t have a class yet?!!!” With that kind of “what are you doing here then?” Sort of look, followed by “go protest, stop coming! Tag The NY Times, that’s what we did!”
How many years now have the women been doing the BMX demos at X Games? And in that time, how has the number of riders attending and spectators changed?
We have had some sort of presence at X Games from 2003-2014 doing clinics in the crowd recruiting girls to try BMX in the interactive park with several non-profits trying to grow our sport, we had a petition for crowd to sign that we had well over 10K signatures, but it never got us anywhere. In 2014, X Games comes to Austin, Texas, where I live, I blew up Mat Hoffman’s phone and tried so hard for months leading up to the event to get us on the course. He got us a practice session during a men’s street practice, and allowed me to invite a total of four women, there was no crowd, and no media, we had to bring our own camera on the DL. 2015 X Games Austin, I got us two more women for a total of six women invited and we got moved to our own time slot on the BMX park course, no crowd, no music, just practice session and we brought our own photographers. 2016 X Games Austin, I got us eight spots to ride the BMX park course, we brought our own filmer and photographer, again, no crowd or music. 2017 X Games Minneapolis, I was able to get us 12 spots for women on the Park course, shared hotel rooms and full credentials, announcer, music, we were live on the jumbotron, but not broadcasted anywhere outside of the building. 2018 X Games Minneapolis, ten spots for women, an appearance fee for an official demo on the park course, finally in front of the crowd, five minute intro, ten minute jam session, announcer, music, we filled the stands, live on the jumbotron—we basically handed them a contest without medals or prizes. For 2019, the conversation defined that those years of efforts prior were merely practice sessions, and the first official demo was in 2018, women’s skateboarding did two years of demos, so should we. But the real question at this point, is “what else do we have to demonstrate?”
Would you say that at this point, it seems like the “demo” is X Games attempt to appease the Women of BMX?
I mean, we have developed a relationship with them since X Games Austin, and I appreciate their effort to keep us involved with my own motives to make sure this gets sorted for the future gens on my watch, but I think it’s just gotten to a point where the women just feel like if we don’t take a stand, it’s never going to happen. And I understand them completely, there’s a lot of risk and sacrifice that’s been put in, and we have always had a great time together out there. This year is too important moving towards the Olympics to risk themselves for another demo. And why not save room and travel to events like the Vans BMX Pro Cup where we have medals and prize money and are welcomed as equals and not a sideshow.
Looking at the silver lining here, although a televised competition would surely do wonders, how much of an impact or influence do you think those demos have had for the women BMX riders?
Honestly, I think it still makes a huge impact! I don’t think I speak for myself about receiving tons of fan messages during and after X Games saying how awesome it was to see women riding BMX park and how inspiring it is. Several riders—both men and women—picking up a bike for the first time or dusting off the cobwebs to get back into it after watching the women’s session. Those messages along with interacting and meeting the fans after in the crowd was so rewarding and gives so much purpose to the sacrifices we have all made to be there.
The first year of the girl’s BMX demo, what was X Games’ attitude then about their being potential for a women’s competition class? Was it always kind of vague whether or not there would be class the following year?
I was so confident that it went well, and was like, okay, we basically handed them a contest all it was missing was medals and prize money, I am not leaving until I have an answer, and of course they were like, “Well, we’ve got to focus on Winter X first, hit us up around then and we’ll get back to you.” So it was pretty vague, a pretty long drum-roll to say the least, only to jump back into the conversation and be in the same spot as the year before.
With Women’s BMX Park in the 2020 Olympics, the Vans BMX Pro Cup, and after a few years of the X Games demos, do you think a lot people assumed there would be a women’s BMX competition this year at X Games?
For sure, I mean, it just seems kind of strange to gap to the Olympics without having a medal category at X Games. No? I think it’s pretty wild and amazing we are going to be on the biggest global stage in the world before being a part of one of the most revered action sports TV show contests.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I think it’s really nice that X Games still at least tries to keep us involved knowing they aren’t going to give us a medal event. We always have a great time getting together outside of competition and cheering our teammates on, but for so long, it’s kind of like trying to date someone who doesn’t want to date you, they feel bad so they hang out with us anyway [laughs]. It’s like we are in the “just a friend” category doing demos. Tough place to be in to have to tell the women it’s not happening every year.