33-year-old Lindsey Vonn – a decorated alpine ski racer, who has won the World Cup four times from 2008 to 2012 – is reviving her petition with the International Ski Federation (FIS) to allow her to compete in a men’s World Cup downhill race next year.
Vonn is easily one of “the most successful women in World Cup history with 77 victories.” Although she doesn’t know how she would fare in a race against the male racers, she wants the opportunity to challenge herself before she retires. In an interview, Vonn said, “That’s part of why I want to do it. And the male racers I talk with agree that it would bring a lot of attention to ski racing. So why not try it?”
This has long been a dream of Vonn’s, whose request was previously denied in 2012 by the FIS because alpine skiing rules do not allow mixed gender races. In 2012, she told The New York Times, “This is something that I personally want to do. I’m not trying to race the whole men’s tour; I just want to race one time. If you know me, which most people on the World Cup do, they know that this is a legitimate goal of mine and not a publicity stunt.”
So far, it looks like Vonn is making more headway this time, although the FIS has noted that Vonn’s inclusion is “an anticipated topic that divides the FIS officials.” Both the United States Ski and Snowboard Association and Vonn’s coach have submitted a request to allow her to enter the men’s downhill event in 2018. The event would take place at Lake Louise, a course Vonn knows well, as she has won 18 races there on the women’s circuit.
Vonn wants the chance to race against the men and feels she has what it takes to do so, seeing as she has been training with them over the last few years. She said, “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I feel like having trained with the men a significant amount over the last few years and being competitive with them almost every single day, I feel like I need that opportunity as an athlete to be able to see what my true potential is.”
She also added, “A lot of people disagree with that, but I think I deserve the opportunity, and the discussion is ongoing. If we’re not able to do it in an actual race, then we’ll come up with something different because I really would appreciate the opportunity. Maybe there’s potential to have some sort of exhibition, something like what Billie Jean King did.”
So far, the feedback Vonn has received has been more positive than the last time she pursued this subject. Atle Skaardal, the FIS Women’s Chief Race Director, hasn’t ruled out Vonn’s proposal but is also hesitant about the idea. In a question-and-answer session posted on the FIS website, Skaardal said, “One point that everyone is underestimating is that we need to have equal rights for everyone. So if the ladies are allowed to race with the men, then also the men need to be authorized to ski with the ladies. And I’m not sure this is a direction we want to go.”
Determined to have the FIS understand her case, Vonn more recently reiterated to CNN that her petition is not a publicity stunt. She simply wants the chance to race against the men and really challenge herself. She said, “The men are the highest level of our sport. I’ve won a lot of races in my career and this is something that’s a new challenge. I want to push myself and see where I stand against the best skiers in the world. Obviously, it’s nothing against the women, I think that the level in women’s ski racing is amazing but, at the same time, I’ve definitely reached a point in my career where I’m looking for something new, looking for a new challenge.”
She added, “I’m not going to lie and say I’m going to be really competitive. I think I’m going to be averagely competitive. The men are just so much stronger than we are. But the reason I chose Lake Louise as the venue to potentially race them is because, obviously, I’ve had success there in the past but it’s more of a course that requires less strength so much as gliding and the ability to carry speed. The women have more finesse, and the men more strength, so hopefully this course can even things out a little bit.”
Vonn has something to prove, not to the world of skiing, but to herself. Why not let her give it a go?
Sign Up For Our Newsletter