U.S. Alpine director set to lobby ski officials to let Lindsey Vonn race men
An item high on Lindsey Vonn‘s priority list -- competing against the men.
She’s lobbying hard for such a chance, but so far the International Ski Federation (FIS) has yet to sign off.
U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml said he will push for rules alterations at the FIS meetings in May to possibly give Vonn and other female skiers that opportunity down the road.
“All the men say, ‘We don’t think she’s going to beat us,’ which is what they’re going to say, and also that, ‘It will be great for our sport,”’ Vonn said. “So, what’s the harm?
“Hopefully, we’re able to accomplish it before I retire.”
The U.S. Ski Team’s proposal would bid for Vonn to be able to race against men in November 2018, according to the Denver Post in January.
“I know I’m not going to win, but I would like to at least have the opportunity to try,” Vonn said then, according to the newspaper. “I think I’ve won enough World Cups where I should have enough respect within the industry to be able to have that opportunity.”
Vonn’s idea has been to race in Lake Louise, Canada, an annual late fall stop on both the men’s and women’s World Cup schedules. The men generally race in Lake Louise one week before the women do.
Vonn’s greatest success has come at Lake Louise, with 18 victories in 41 downhill and super-G starts dating to 2001.
Vonn previously requested in 2012 to be able to race against men in Lake Louise, but that was denied by the International Ski Federation (FIS). The federation said then “that one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other.”
“You can set up a day where a female racer can compete against men racers, just as a show, but it has nothing to do with competition,” FIS women’s race director Atle Skaardal said, according to the Denver Post in January. “I don’t see that it’s going to change in the next years — no driving forces to urge a change like that. This is something the teams could do also in training. But why would you want to have a competition in this direction?
“I just don’t see the interest. For me it’s a meaningless comparison. It doesn’t matter if she’s one second behind or a half-second ahead. We compete female against female and men against men. To me it doesn’t matter if one gender is faster or slower. It doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, just because it’s of interest to one racer. I haven’t heard of any other sport being dragged into this kind of position.”
Vonn must focus on the Olympic season before thinking about preparing to race men.
Always the consummate planner, she has every detail scribbled in a calendar from now until her season starts in November. Workouts, upcoming trips, ski camps, appointments - all of the ordinary stuff.
The bigger-ticket items? Now those are simply memorized. In the twilight of her career, the four-time overall World Cup champion has a priority list of aspirations before even thinking of stepping away:
- Break Ingemar Stenmark‘s wins record (once thought untouchable).
- “Defend” her downhill crown at the Winter Olympics in South Korea (she didn’t get that chance in Sochi because of a knee injury).
- Compete against the men.
“I’m not going to stop until I reach my goals,” Vonn said. “There’s too much I have left to accomplish.”
At the moment, her plan is to race at least through the 2018-19 season -- health willing, of course.
But right now, the 32-year-old Vonn feels, knock on wood, quite healthy. She hasn’t been able to say that very often.
A quick glance at her medical chart: Bruised hip in training crash before Olympics (2006), sliced right thumb on champagne bottle while celebrating a victory (2009), severely bruised shin (2010), serious knee injuries (2013-14), broken left ankle (2015) and fractures near her left knee joint in a crash (2016).
Most recently, she broke her right arm in a November training run. It required surgery and led to nerve damage so severe she could hardly wiggle her fingers at first and had to tape the ski pole to her glove in order to race. She’s still trying to recover full sensation.
“All the obstacles I’ve faced, it makes me appreciate things that much more,” Vonn said in a recent interview as she hosted a camp in Denver designed to empower girls to reach their goals. “But I can’t worry about injuries. If you worry about it, you’re always going to ski scared.”
That’s never been an issue with Vonn.
“There are a lot of athletes who achieve amazing results and when they get hurt, especially multiple times, they ask themselves, ‘Is it worth it?”’ Riml said. “Her hunger to become a better athlete and win more races is as big as it was when she was 20 years old.
“Her determination, her drive to become better, to win more races, it’s unbelievable.”
Vonn has a number in mind - 86. That’s how many World Cup wins Stenmark accumulated during the Swedish great’s extraordinary career. Vonn is currently at 77.
“If I ended my career today, I’d still be really satisfied with what I’ve done,” said Vonn , who broke Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell‘s women’s record of 62 World Cup wins in January 2015. “But I think to beat a record like his [Stenmark], it would be very significant.”
These days, everything is geared toward the Winter Olympics in South Korea. After capturing downhill gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games, she missed the Sochi Games because of a knee injury.
“My main goal is to defend or repeat - I don’t know what you call it,” she joked.
Vonn raced on the Olympic course in early March, finishing second in both the downhill and super-G. In Pyeongchang next February, she said she will compete in the downhill, super-G, giant slalom and the combined, but skip the slalom.
According to her crammed calendar, this recent block of time was reserved for rest. She and her boyfriend, Kenan Smith, a former assistant wide receivers coach for the Los Angeles Rams, recently escaped to the beach in the Turks and Caicos Islands .
Soon on her to-do list, test out new Head skis and boots in Europe. Vonn’s been hurt so much that she really hasn’t had a chance to try out the latest equipment.
“I need to get up to date,” Vonn said. “I know that if I can fine-tune some of the details, I can find some more time in my racing.”
That will certainly come in handy against a crop of talented skiers that includes freshly minted World Cup overall champion Mikaela Shiffrin, who grew up holding Vonn in high esteem, the same way Vonn did with 1998 super-G Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street.
“There’s clearly no one out there in the technical disciplines, especially the slalom, that’s on Mikaela’s level,” said Vonn, who lives in Vail, Colorado. “She’s had an incredible career so far.”
One day Shiffrin could be chasing Vonn’s marks. At 22, Shiffrin already has 31 World Cup wins. For a comparison, Vonn had four at the same age.
“It would be great if Mikaela’s able to break it,” said Vonn, whose foundation partnered with “ZGirls” to host confidence-building programs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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