Vonn’s women vs. men race still a dream 10 years on
SÖLDEN, Austria (AP) — For all that Lindsey Vonn accomplished in a glittering career, one of the skiing great’s dreams has never become a reality — racing against men.
At the peak of her career, Vonn announced her plan to compete in Canada in a men’s World Cup downhill at Lake Louise in November 2012.
It didn’t happen for various reasons, but the American’s idea still captures the imagination of skiers 10 years later.
“If it’s just for a show and for excitement and a spectacle? Great, let’s do it. I think people would be interested in it,” Mikaela Shiffrin told The Associated Press on the eve of the World Cup season, which starts Saturday with a giant slalom in Austria.
Shiffrin won her fourth overall title last season to match Vonn’s career tally, and she is closing in on her former teammate’s record of 82 women’s World Cup wins.
Italian speed specialist Sofia Goggia had her own suggestion.
“I would like maybe to have a sort of combined, with women racing downhill and men slalom. This would be interesting, like racing in a team,” said Goggia, the 2018 Olympic downhill champion and a close friend of Vonn’s.
“But the women on one discipline and the men on the other discipline. Otherwise, it would not be fair,” the Italian said.
Vonn’s idea gets support among male skiers, too.
“Back then, when Lindsey was trying to do it, I was all for it,” Olympic super-G silver medalist Ryan Cochran-Siegle said. “It is interesting, where we have so many amazing athletes and yet we are split. It was unfortunate with Lindsey, because I did think it would be cool, especially in Lake Louise where she has had so much success.”
Vonn had won Olympic downhill gold in 2010 and earned her fourth big crystal globe two years later when she expressed her wish to race against male competition early in the 2012-13 season.
“For me, that is the next level,” Vonn said at that time. “Men race with so much strength and more pace. I want to try it one time. One time.”
The idea made headlines for weeks, but Vonn and the U.S. ski team ultimately refrained from putting in an official request with governing body FIS once it became clear the men’s race would cost her too many starts on the women’s circuit — including not being allowed to enter the women’s events in Lake Louise the following week as having skied on the course just days before would give her an unfair advantage.
Vonn had to put her idea to rest for good following a series of severe knee injuries that hampered her in the following seasons until her retirement in 2019.
Many women train with men regularly but, apart from the low-key parallel team events, races usually do not offer direct comparisons. Several venues are common to both men’s and women’s races but courses are prepared differently, with more ice injection and a bumpier surface for men. Also, the setting of the gates usually varies.
However, women did compete on the same downhill course used for a men’s race two hours earlier at the 2014 World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Winner Lara Gut-Behrami was 2.32 seconds slower than men’s winner Matthias Mayer and would have ranked 18th in the men’s event. Also, both men and women used the same course for the super-G portion of the combined race at the 2021 world championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, where time differences between the leading men and women were about two seconds.
Olympic slalom champion Petra Vlhová says she does not support the idea of direct competition.
“Men and women, you cannot compare them, they have different bodies,” the Slovakian racer said. “If you do some races with the men, it’s because you want to be everywhere in the newspaper. I don’t need to do that.”
Shiffrin also said she wanted to know why direct competition would be needed.
“Is it to prove the point that this is something women deserve in the sport, or that we are good enough to win men’s World Cup races? On average, that’s not a comparable thing. That’s comparing apples and oranges.”
Not that the result would be obvious, Shiffrin said.
“There are certain events in certain conditions where you can sort of lessen the gap, where many women, especially Lindsey, would be able to beat many of the men.”
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