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Canadian skier Erik Guay disappointed by FIS decision not to let Lindsey Vonn race men’s downhill at Lake Louise

Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. won't be racing with men, much to Erik Guay's chagrin. (Reuters)


There's the old adage about rules being made to be broken.

American skier Lindsey Vonn really wasn't interested in breaking rules when she asked to compete against the men in the opening downhill race of the World Cup season at Lake Louise, Alta., later this month. Vonn was more interested in testing herself, to see how good she could be.

If allowed to do that, Vonn would have broken some stereotypes about women in sport. She would have pushed the envelope of tradition. Some might argue that's the real reason the International Ski Federation on Saturday rejected Vonn's request to race against the men.

"One gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other and exceptions will not be made to the FIS rules,'' the FIS Council said in a statement.

Erik Guay, the reigning downhill world champion and one of the best skiers Canada has ever produced, believes FIS made the wrong decision.

"It was a huge opportunity and now one lost,'' Guay said in an telephone interview from his Mont-Tremblant, Que., home. "We are always trying to compete against other sports to create that visibility and interest.

"I think this would have been a great way to attract new fans to the sport. I'm a little disappointed with FIS's decision. I think they should have gone ahead and said 'yes, let her race.'''

For Vonn to race, FIS would have had to make exceptions to some rules. There also was the question of where she should be allowed to start in the field. World  Cup starting positions are determined by a points system accumulated over previous races.

Former Crazy Canuck Ken Read supported FIS's decision. In his mind, allowing  Vonn to race would have caused a domino affect.

"You make an exception to one, where do you stop?'' said Read, who won five races and had 14 career World Cup podiums. ''For me the World Cup is not a place to make exceptions.''

Guay thinks FIS looked at a problem and settled on the easy solution.

"I just have a feeling for FIS, it wasn't going to bring that much more interest to the sport in Europe,'' he said. ''They didn't look at the market in North America, which I think would have had a huge impact.

"They thought it would be easier and less complicated just to cancel it from the get go.''

Max Gartner, Alpine Canada's president, was frustrated over the lost marketing potential.

''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 release. ''It would have provided a great platform to showcase our sport and the amazing athletic performances of our athletes.''

To  give Vonn a ''fair go'' Guay would have started her 31st. That would have put her in a position to challenge the best racers without penalizing anyone who had worked hard to reach the top 30.

Guay has trained with Vonn in the past and watched her race against men on shortened courses. He still believes she would have had a hard time finishing in the top 30 at Lake Louise.

"If it's icy and bumpy . . . I think she would have an ever bigger margin with the men,'' he said.

"That's where she's much better than the women, when it gets hard and bumpy and icy. I do thinks there's a little bit of gender difference with the amount of force she can use and the amount of acceleration she can create from pure muscle mass.''

The 27-year-old Vonn is the biggest name in women's skiing and one of the highest profile winter athletes in the world. An Olympic gold medallist and four-time overall World Cup champion, she has dominated the Lake Louise course with 11 wins and 17 podium finishes.

Were some of the men simply afraid of getting their ass kicked by a girl?

''I'm sure there was,'' laughed Guay. ''I listened to lot of the guys during their interviews. To be honest, some of them sounded a little bit nervous and rightfully so.

''Personally I wasn't too worried about it. You never know. Something can happen, you make a mistake and she beats you and it doesn't look good.''

FIS's decision means Vonn won't be embarrassed. Or embarrass anyone else.

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