American skier Lindsey Vonn still faces some curves if she hopes to be in the start gate for the men's World Cup downhill race at Lake Louise, Alta. But at least one member of the Canadian women's downhill ski team supports Vonn's wish of racing against the men.
"I think it's a great idea and will bring good publicity to our sport,'' said Kelly VanderBeek, who still is recovering from a serious knee injury suffered just before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
VanderBeek knows the Lake Louise course well. Among her three World Cup podium finishes is a third place in a 2006 super-giant slalom at Lake Louise. She has been a forerunner for a men's downhill race there and believes Vonn could do well on the course.
"There is little to no difference from the women's track,'' VanderBeek said in an e-mail. "If anything, I preferred the set for the men's track . . . because the flow was nicer since they set for the hill.
"The women's sets can sometime awkwardly turn us in order to slow us down.''
Vonn has written the International Ski Federation (FIS) to ask if she can compete against the men in the first downhill event of the World Cup season on Nov. 24. But a FIS official said the request isn't official if it comes from the athlete .
"As per our rules a formal request to us must come from our member national ski association rather than an athlete, ski club or similar,'' Riikka Rakic, the FIS communications manager, said in an e-mail.
For Vonn to make her wish happen, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association must make a formal request before the FIS Council meets early next month in Oberhofen, Switzerland.
Tom Kelly, vice-president of communications for the U.S. ski association, said they only learned of the protocol involved over the weekend.
"We greatly respect Lindsey for her accomplishments as well as her interest in this new challenge,'' Kelly said. "But we have not yet had an opportunity to formally discuss it with Lindsey and FIS.''
Vonn is the biggest name in women's skiing and one of the highest profile winter athletes in the world. The 27-year-old Olympic gold medallist is a four-time overall World Cup champion. Of her 33 World Cup victories, 26 have come in downhill races.
The Lake Louise races traditionally open the World Cup downhill season. Vonn has proven a master at the Alberta resort, winning there 10 times.
The men's races in Lake Louise are scheduled for the same time as the women are supposed to compete in giant slalom and slalom races at Aspen, Colo.
If Vonn were to race against the men, she could be prevented from competing in the two women's downhill and super-G races scheduled in Lake Louise the following weekend.
A FIS rule limits how much extra training time an athlete can have on a course.