Do fans want more women in motocross?

Motocross rider Vicki Golden competing in the Women's Moto X Racing final during X Games Los Angeles 2013

Motocross rider Vicki Golden competing in the Women's Moto X Racing final during X Games Los Angeles 2013; photo by Rich Arden/ESPN Images

In an age when gender equality is at the forefront of debate in action sports, talking about a woman competing in a male-dominated discipline feels a bit like throwing a twig on a forest fire. But when Vicki Golden, 21, nabbed a bronze metal on the dirt-caked podium of the Staples Center for Best Whip at X Games Los Angeles 2013, it was very much a big deal. Golden was the first woman to earn an invitation to the freestyle motocross event at the X Games. She was on a smaller, less powerful bike than the men. She was up against some of the most formidable male riders in the sport. There were audible grumbles from the motocross community, some angered that two-time Best Whip winner Todd Potter was excluded from the six-person event. And perhaps most interesting is the fact that the medalists were determined by a real-time popular vote on Twitter, bringing to light a question that deserves answering: Are motocross fans hungry to see more women in the game?

Vicki Golden on her way to a bronze medal in Moto X Best Whip

Vicki Golden on her way to a bronze medal in Moto X Best Whip at X Games Los Angeles 2013. The podium was decided by popular vote, via Twitter. Photo by Garth Milan/ESPN Images

For Golden, the gender gap wasn't relevant in the beginning. "I looked up to anything my brother did and wanted to ride just like him," she says of being encouraged to pick up the sport by her brother and father. She eventually entered the competitive circuit at age 7 and had to compete against boys since there weren't enough girls her age to warrant a separate race class. "My first race was with boys, and I was with my friends," she remembers. "It was all I knew. My dad just wanted me to race, and that's where he put me."

Even now, after having become the first woman to qualify for the men's AMA Arenacross circuit and joining Metal Mulisha as their first woman rider, Golden's careful to put the emphasis on quantifiable differences between male and female motocross riders—like the fact that her 250 cc bike is smaller and less powerful than the 450 cc bikes men ride. "Being on a smaller bike, I don't get the pop or airtime that the guys on the 450s [have]," Golden explains. "The whole idea of the ramp is to get the most airtime. Not being able to have that power on the smaller bike is what hinders me; it will be a process to get used to."

To keep up with the physical-strength demands of riding the freestyle event, Golden is logging long hours in the gym and on the track, where she finds comradery in the same male riders she sometimes finds herself up against. "Last year I trained at Link's [Larry Linkogle] home, and [Ronnie] Faist's house as well," she shares. "It made it better to watch them off ramps, [to see] what they had to do and listen to their feedback."

Motocross riders Jeremy Stenberg, Josh Hansen, and Vicki Golden on the podium after competing in Moto X Best Whip

L to R: Jeremy Stenberg, Josh Hansen, and Vicki Golden on the podium after competing in Moto X Best Whip at X Games Los Angeles 2013; photo by Garth Milan/ESPN Images

Best Whip is a six-player event wherein riders fly off a ramp and perform a tail whip—a mid-air trick usually reserved for the celebratory race-winning lap in motocross—at the apex of the jump. The winner is determined by a real-time popular vote on Twitter; fans and TV viewers cast a vote for their favorite rider by tweeting the rider's last name and the hashtag #xgameswhip. Golden nabbed the third-place spot with 21 percent of the vote—not an easy feat while up against fan favorites Jeremy "Twitch" Stenberg and Josh Hansen, who won with 42 percent of the vote. All this despite the fact that many fans and riders were less than thrilled with Golden's invitation—a sentiment even Golden herself understands. "A lot of dudes didn't get in who definitely should have been in the event," she says, referencing Todd Potter, who has medaled and won the event before. "But you don't get invited to these things for no good reason. I belong there and will be making sure I am doing all I can to prepare."

Golden will have another chance to prove her merit to fans and skeptics alike this summer as the 2014 X Games kick off in Austin, Texas. "Prep time will be good for me to really take it seriously and work on everything I can to make my whips as good as possible so the votes are clear and not really directed toward popularity," she says. Catch the Best Whip competition on Friday, June 6, at 7 p.m. CT or watch it live on ESPN.com.

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