|Of the 175 athletes who competed this weekend in BMX, skateboarding and inline skating events at the LG event, only eight were women, said Rick Bratman, president of ASA Events, which organizes the action sports tour. There was one event for women, the inline street competition.|
This year at the better-known X Games, a mid-season all-star event, there were two events for women. When the X Games started in 1995, there were six.
Although inline skating has high participation rates, it never caught on with die-hard fans when the alternative sports boom hit in the mid-1990s, Bratman said. Part of the reason is that it never developed the rich culture and language that define sports such as skateboarding and surfing.
"It didn't have any culture," he said. "It didn't have its own vibe, its own trick names. It's not as technical as skateboarding, which is one of the big knocks on it."
It also doesn't have much of an infrastructure, lacking the bureaucracy that funnels millions of children into soccer or baseball.
Unlike tennis or volleyball, the sports featured on the action tour don't fall under the auspices of a national governing body such as the U.S. Olympic Committee, said Donna Lopiano, the CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation. Olympic sports are required by federal law not to discriminate by gender.
Action or extreme sports are run by event promoters who are outside the mainstream of American sports organizations, Lopiano said.
"These people are not discriminating purposely on the basis of sex," Lopiano said. "They are promoters whose range of thinking is limited and knowledge of women in sports is limited, and they do what is easy and what they know. There's no developmental pipeline for women."
Six of the eight women at the world championships this weekend will compete only in the street inline competition. The Brazilian-born Da Silva and Ayumi Kawasaki of Japan will compete in the street competition against the women, and in the vertical ramp competition against the men.
At 27, Da Silva, who competed in the second X Games, is four years older than the next-oldest woman at the world championships. All of her main competitors from a decade ago retired or dropped out.
"As the years came down, less girls were competing and it became only like two women," Da Silva said. "You couldn't have competition with two women. Everybody just went in different directions either with school or different lifestyles."
The sport's future is tied to the fortunes of athletes such as Da Silva, someone with potential for the crossover success enjoyed by skateboarder Tony Hawk.
What separates Da Silva from other popular female athletes is that she competes and succeeds in her sport against the best men in the world, Bratman said. Although she has never won a vertical ramp competition against men, she regularly finishes among the top five.
She is also one of a handful of inline skaters, male or female, who has executed a double backflip in competition.
"She's the real deal," Bratman said. "Fabiola is in my mind the best female athlete in the world. She's the only female athlete I can think of who competes against men and regularly finishes in the top five. Serena Williams could be the best female tennis player in the world, and she would lose love and love to the 1,000th-ranked man in the world."
Da Silva hasn't entered the mainstream public consciousness, said Scott Sanford of Davie Brown, a sports and entertainment marketing firm, and her endorsements are strictly inline-skating related.