Skier Lindsey Vonn awaits decision to race against men

CBC

Lindsey Vonn won’t have to wait much longer.

The American skiing great will know this weekend whether her wish to compete against the men at the World Cup downhill race in Lake Louise, Alta., will be granted following a meeting in Switzerland.

Vonn’s request was formally sent to the International Ski Federation (FIS) by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA).

She personally made her wishes known to FIS in early October.

The men’s downhill race, site of the first speed events of the season, takes place on Nov. 24.

Vonn, widely regarded as the most dominant women’s skier in history, has been thinking of taking on the men for a number of years.

Vonn has 53 World Cup victories including 26 downhill titles in her career, trailing only the 62 by Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria, who won 36 downhill between 1970 and 1980. She also claimed the 2010 Olympic downhill title in Vancouver.

The 28-year-old St. Paul, Minn., native has spent the last few years training against the men, and at times has been faster than some of them, including Canadian Ben Thompson.

There are some logistics to consider if Vonn is given the green light.

The men’s race occurs six days before the first of two women’s downhill events at Lake Louise.

While FIS rules don’t prohibit women from competing in men’s races, skiing’s governing body doesn’t allow competitors to race on the same course within a week to prevent an unfair advantage.

Vonn has already made it known that she won’t surrender World Cup points in the two women’s World Cup downhill races at Lake Louise on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 if FIS doesn’t allow her to compete that weekend.

"If it's not possible to do the women's World Cup race in Lake Louise, then I definitely won't race with the men either," Vonn told an Austrian TV station two weeks ago. "That needs to be clarified first, that I can still race with the women.”

The American would also miss the women’s World Cup downhill event in Aspen, Colo., which takes place on the same day as the men’s competition in Lake Louise.

There’s an obvious reason why Vonn is choosing Lake Louise to challenge the men: she simply dominates the Canadian Rockies and makes no secret to that point.

Since 2004 Vonn has captured nine of 14 downhill races at the famed course. She saved her most dazzling performance last season when she captured all three events — two downhill and the super-G — in dominating fashion.

Vonn, the first American skier to win four World Cup overall titles last season, has certainly grabbed her share of the headlines in Canada, especially with the NHL mired in another lockout.

Just the thought of one of the best skiers of all-time taking on the men has been a continual talking point among the Canadian ski team for two weeks.

“It would be huge. We all talk about the Tiger [Woods] effect and how viewership of golf is up to I think 30 or 50 per cent if he’s in contention for an event. So I can’t even imagine what the Lindsey Vonn effect with the men would look like,” Canadian team member Kelly VanderBeek reiterated to CBC News after originally drawing the comparison in her CBCSports.ca blog last week.

“To see her skills matched up against the men would be extremely exciting as a fan of the sport.”

Not all Canadian teammates share VanderBeek’s enthusiastic opinion. Manny Osborne-Paradis, returning to the slopes for the first time in almost two years because of various injuries, doesn’t view Lake Louise as much of a challenge.

“There’s nothing special about Lake Louise,” Osborne-Paradis explained to CBCSports.ca. “It’s a very easy course [and] there’s no jumps. To me downhill is not all 100 per cent about skiing. It’s about conquering demons; it’s about pushing the envelope over obstacles that you know you necessarily wouldn’t really want to ski. And Lake Louise doesn’t hold that. I’d like to see her do a real men’s course and not just our warm-up course for start of the season.”

And where does Osborne-Paradis envision Vonn placing if the Nov. 24 race is a go?

“I think with a good run she probably could be in the top 30.”

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