Update, 11/4/12: To no one's surprise, including probably Lindsey Vonn, the FIS Council voted Saturday to not support her request to race against the men in the late November World Cup Downhill at Lake Louise, where Vonn has traditionally raced well. Vonn, with the support of the USSA, petitioned the FIS—the World Cup's ruling body—in early October to allow her to compete in a men's downhill. A statement from the FIS Council left no doubt on its stance: "The Council respected Lindsey Vonn’s proposal to participate in men’s World Cup races and confirmed that one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other and exceptions will not be made to the FIS Rules."
The statement went on to note that America's most successful alpine racer, male or female, and arguably the world's best racer currently on snow, "is welcome to submit a request to the Organizing Committee and jury to be a forerunner." Forerunners test a course's lines for safety, with coaches and officials evaluating race conditions before the real competition begins. It's difficult to imagine that Vonn and the USSA will realistically consider that an option. In addition, there were serious concerns voiced within the racing community that allowing Vonn to compete against the men on a course that is hosting a women's event a few days later would give her a huge competitive advantage.
USSA President and CEO Bill Marrolt, who sits on the 17-member FIS Council, responded that the USSA accepts the decision and is moving on. "It's important for us to support athletes like Lindsey. She has achieved greatness from her tenacity in seeking new challenges," Marlot said in a statement. "We're disappointed that the FIS Council did not support the proposal but also respect its direction. Now we have to keep a strong focus on the World Championships this season and the 2014 Olympics."
It's nice to see Lindsey Vonn feeling confident heading into the season—so confident, she wants to race against the men at the Lake Louise World Cup downhill at the end of November.
Sure, it's publicity stunt. No one can blame her for looking to raise the visibility of women's racing, just as no one can deny that it generally languishes in the shadows of the men's tour. Everyone knows who Jean-Claude Killy is, and Tomba, and the Hermannator. Far fewer casual race fans remember who Annemarie Moser-Pröll is, though the Austrian woman dominated the sport the way no other racer, male or female, has before or since.
And if anyone deserves visibility, it's Vonn. The sport is lucky to have her. Americans, especially, are lucky to have her. She's well spoken, personable, extremely hard-working and, we don't think she minds our saying, extremely telegenic.
Most of all, though, she wins. She wins races and she wins season titles. She wins in all five events. She wins more than any American ever has, by a long shot.
Would she win against the men? Of course not, and she surely knows it. Veteran World Cup journalist Patrick Lang, writing for Reuters, says the insider wisdom is that she'd give up five seconds to the winner at Lake Louise. That’s an eternity in ski racing. We're not talking about an exhibition match against Bobby Riggs here.
And will the FIS, hardly known for its progressivism, let her race against the men? Highly doubtful. As Lang reports, the director of the women's tour, Atle Skaardal, has already laid the groundwork for a "no" by pointing out that it'd be against the rules to allow Vonn to race on a course on which the women will compete a week later. That would be a tremendous advantage to her.
Vonn is poised to make history. If things go well this season, she could eclipse Pröll's 32-year-old record for career World Cup wins. In a couple more seasons, she could even catch the all-time most victorious racer, Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark. (For you kids out there, he’s a ski god.) That'd make Vonn the greatest racer ever, male or female.
Maybe she senses that it'll take something even greater than that to get the world to pay attention to women's racing—such as a bid to race against men. Who cares if it never happens? As she prepares her assault on the legends of Pröll and Stenmark, it's nice to see the pride of Buck Hill feeling so confident. We’re all in.