By Laura Pappano
When the International Ski Federation turned down Lindsey Vonn’s request to compete in the men’s downhill World Cup the explanation was wearily familiar – there are races for guys and races for women and they’re separate.
Actually, FIS secretary general Sarah Lewis didn’t put it quite like that, rather invoking the term “ladies” as in, “the men race the men’s World Cup and the ladies race the ladies’ World Cup.”
Such gender-segregation doesn’t move us forward; it reinforces old stereotypes that females can’t – and shouldn’t (there is a moral tone to this) – compete with males. Yet athletes at the very top of their game – and Vonn is dominant — want to test themselves against the best (remember Annika Sorenstam at the Colonial in 2003?).
As I figure, Vonn could well finish in the top 20. Here’s my (very rough) calculation:
Of course, the men’s and women’s courses are different. As the Alpine Official’s Manual for the US Ski and Snowboard Association observes, “Course setting is acknowledged as an art — not a science – and cannot be easily taught or explained.”
The FIS site doesn’t detail differences between the men’s and women’s courses for that event, but we can take another venue, Lake Louise, for which there is course information (for the 2010 Olympic downhill course). The women’s race is shorter than the men’s (3119 meters to 3225 meters). The difference is 106 meters, making the women’s race three percent shorter.
For fun, let’s add three percent to Vonn’s winning time, which puts it in the 1:49-range. That would have her finishing between 15 and 20 in the men’s field in Schladming.
This is rough, I know, and doesn’t consider vertical drop differences and snow conditions, among other factors. But the point is this: Vonn’s times are not WAY out of line and are probably competitive with top men.
Doesn’t she deserve the chance to find out for real?