Meet Livia Lancelot, the First Ever Women’s World Champion in the History of Motocross

We talked to the French rider about being the only girl at the start line and breaking the gender gap in action sports.

Photos courtesy of Livia Lancelot

In 2008, French motocross rider Livia Lancelot won the FIM Women’s Motocross World Championship and became the first ever women’s world champion in the history of motocross. This victory came right in the middle of a shifting conversation within the world of action sports: rather than talking about the best champions, people were increasingly talking about why more women weren’t becoming the best champions. Gender imbalance and action sports have traditionally gone hand in hand, and motocross is no exception. However, things are tangibly improving on that front: since the Powder Puff National in 1974 – the first big female motocross race in the U.S. – we’ve seen an influx of competitions pop up specifically giving props to female athletes. There’s the WMX championship series, the X Games, the Endurocross series, just to name a few; and in the 2000s, women’s motocross became an official part of the AMA Pro National series, one of the world’s most prestigious motocross championships. And it’s not just about organisations moving to include women, too. Traditional motocross audiences want to see more women excelling in the sport, as exemplified by Vicki Golden: despite being the first woman in the Freestyle Motocross competition at LA’s X Games 2013 and despite competing against prominent male riders, she earned a bronze medal based off of real-time voting from people tuning into the competition on Twitter.

The impact of including women in motocross culture has been so tangible that women are increasingly participating in the sport even in countries like Iran, where women are banned from riding motorcycles in public. On the wave of this momentum, we caught up with Livia about what it’s like being the only girl at the start line and what the women’s scene in motocross is like today.

GIRLS ARE AWESOME: Hey Livia. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Livia Lancelot: I was born twenty-nine years ago in the northern suburbs of Paris. Up until the age of eighteen, I was just a normal little girl going to school and dreaming of becoming a vet. I’ve always loved animals. I used to do indoor rock climbing and motocross with my dad, but it wasn’t until I was eighteen that I started going for a professional career in motocross. And ever since that moment, I’ve been giving it my all to be the best girl riding in the world.

How old were you when you started riding motorbikes and how did you first get into it?

I was two years old when I got a small electric quad to go from one room to the other, just around the house.  At the age of four, I started riding a PW50 in the garden with my grandpa. That was the beginning of the long journey ahead.

How many other girls would you see riding motorbikes at the time?

Up until I was fourteen or fifteen years old, I’d only see a few other girls doing it—neither of whom would be in my age group.

Who was your role model, considering there weren’t too many women in the sport on the horizon?

Musician and motocross rider P!nk is the only person that has truly inspired me. I love the way she takes on life!

In another life, if you weren’t a professional motocross rider, what would you be doing?

I used to want to become a vet. But if I’d been an athlete in another sport, it would have to be basketball.

You’ve done a lot of “First Ever Girl/First Woman To…” during your career. Which one of them was the most memorable and why?

There are two: the first one was at the famous Le Touquet Beach Race in France. I finished 39th out of twelve-hundred riders, less than ten of them being girls. I was the only girl to finish in the top 100, so I was pretty happy about that.

The other time was at the FIM MX2 World Motocross Championship in Thailand. I came 20th in the MX2 class, as the first woman ever to score a point against the men in the FIM MX2 World Motocross Championship.

Since you’ve often been the only girl among a load of guys, have you felt treated differently? Have you noticed how you’re treated change from the time you were a child to now as a woman?

I started competing with boys at Nationals before I was even eight years old, at that age kids are really cool towards each other. We all grew up together. I was always the only girl and honestly, it felt like a gift; it was super cool. They were always taking care of me and respected me.

What’s it like pursuing a career as a professional female motocross rider financially and emotionally?

It’s hard, because financially we’re far from being treated equal. So you have to have the emotional strength to sacrifice your whole life, take all the risks and know that in the end you still need to go to work.

What are the main differences between men’s and women’s divisions in the FIM?

We have less rounds and less consideration.

How does the women’s prize money compare to the men’s in the world of motocross?

Women’s prize money is less than 10 percent of the men’s.

Photo via Flickr

How has female participation in motocross changed during the past twenty-five years?

The level of participation is so much better now! Our times are much closer to guys and there are more and more girls riding with a good speed. It used to be just a few of us all around the world and still pretty far behind from men. But it’s changing. Unfortunately, this isn’t the same when it comes to the consideration from the Federation. I’m happy that we’ve got our fans who’ll support is in changing this situation, though!

Have you encountered any negative attitudes or sexism, since you’re often the only girl racing?

Not that I can remember.

What’s an average day in the life of Livia Lancelot?

I wake up at 8:30 for a thirty minute run, have breakfast in front of my computer and work with the team. I get ready to practice for the rest of the day, have lunch, more practice. I get back home after a cycling recovery, shower, have dinner, and go to sleep! Pretty exciting, no?

What are your goals, both on the short term and long term?

I’m working on my team; I want to be team manager in the MX2 class for the next season already. The long term goal will be to settle down and start a family.

What would you say to any girls or women thinking about trying out motocross for the first time?

To have fun and believe in yourself, no matter what. Having fun in life is key!

Thanks, Livia.