Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, considered by many to be the best female skier in the world, was denied a request to compete in a men’s World Cup downhill race by the International Ski Federation.
The FIS council met Saturday in Switzerland, and “confirmed that one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other,” adding in a statement that “exceptions will not be made to the FIS Rules.”
Vonn, a four-time overall World Cup champion, wanted to enter the men’s downhill on Nov. 24 at Lake Louise, Alberta, six days before the women race on the same course.
“It’s very clear,” FIS secretary general Sarah Lewis told the Associated Press in a telephone interview. “It’s called the men’s World Cup and the ladies’ World Cup. The men race the men’s World Cup and the ladies race the ladies’ World Cup. FIS and World Cup points are not transferable from one circuit to another.”
Skiing could certainly use a boost and what better way to get one than letting the best woman skier take on the men? The TV exposure would be huge and even if Vonn couldn’t take the men out, plenty of people would tune in to watch her try.
In rejecting the proposal, the sport’s governing body did however offer Vonn an olive branch by stating she “is welcome to submit a request to the organizing committee and jury to be a forerunner” for the races. Forerunners test the course before races for safety and visibility.
A forerunner is timed in exactly the same manner as an actual competitor, so if Vonn accepts the offer her run will attract widespread attention as a side interest both within the sport and beyond.
Vonn has earned nine of her 26 World Cup downhill victories in Lake Louise, which is often dubbed “Lake Lindsey” for her dominance there.
“We’re disappointed that the FIS Council did not support the proposal, but also respect its direction,” U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) president and CEO Bill Marolt, who is also a member of the FIS council, said in a statement. “Lindsey Vonn is a great champion in our sport and we have always respected her interests in this new challenge.”
Alpine Canada president Max Gartner was disappointed about the decision.
“I saw it as a great opportunity to raise the profile of the sport by attracting interest from people who do not normally follow ski racing, particularly in North America,” Gartner said in a statement. “It would have provided a great platform to showcase our sport and the amazing athletic performances of our athletes.”
Lewis said while there was no vote, the 17-member council was in general agreement over the decision.
“This decision had nothing to do with an individual. It’s not personal, it’s not specific to Lindsey and it’s not underlying her skills,” Lewis said, adding that the USSA handled Vonn’s request “eloquently.”
Still, Gartner wasn’t satisfied.
“Lindsey has achieved many milestones in ladies’ ski racing,” he said. “It would have been interesting to see how she stacked up against the best male racers in the world. Lake Louise is the perfect venue to have that comparison because Lindsey has as much experience on the mountain as many of the men have had.”
Vonn dismissed talk that her campaign to race against men was a mere public relations stunt.
“This is something that I personally want to do,” said Vonn, the 2010 Olympic downhill gold medalist. “I’m not trying to race the whole men’s tour; I just want to race one time. If you know me, which most people on the World Cup do, they know that this is a legitimate goal of mine and not a publicity stunt.”
A precedent has already been set when female alpine skier Marlies Schild of Austria was a forerunner on home snow at a night-time slalom at Schladming in January 2012.
Schild’s time would have put her in the top 30 in that men’s race.
Another example of a woman taking on the men came in golf when Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam took on the men at a 2003 PGA event at Fort Worth, Texas.
Racecar driver Danica Patrick regularly races against guys, first in the IndyCar series and now with NASCAR.
And of course we can’t forget when tennis champion Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in what is referred to as “The Battle of the Sexes.”
I don’t see a negative to letting Vonn attempt to race. If she did great, that would have been awesome. If she struggled, at least she could find out how far she could go. What do you think? Should Vonn be allowed to compete against the guys?