Shortening The Gender Gap: Should Vonn Get Her Final Skiing Retirement Wish?

Lindsey Vonn, greatest woman to step into ski bindings, still wants to compete against the men.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) is stated to look into her request next week when the United States team formally proposes the motion at pre-season FIS meetings in Zurich, Switzerland.

Vonn previously attempted to race against male competitors in 2012. However, the FIS rejected that request – organisational rules bar mixed gender races. The proposed race will take place in Lake Louise, Canada, during the 2018-2019.

“Further details are still unknown, but this is certainly an anticipated topic that divides the FIS officials,”

– the governing body on Wednesday.

“All the men say, ‘We don’t think she’s going to beat us,’ which is what they’re going to say, and also that, ‘It will be great for our sport,'” Vonn told The Associated Press in April. “So, what’s the harm?”

The harm, according to FIS boss Atle Skaardale is:

“It will be a very difficult challenge to find a reasonable way of doing this…If the ladies are allowed to race with the men, then also the men need to be authorised to ski with the ladies. And I’m not sure this is a direction we want to go. It’s a difficult topic.”

This hasn’t been the case in other sports, such as golf, where women have competed with men. However, in cases such as Annika Sorenstam competing at Colonial in the early 2000s, she was granted a sponsor exemption to do so…no such option exists in the world of skiing.

Vonn has long wanted to race against men; she turns 33 next month. Her record at Lake Louise is superb, with 14 of Vonn’s 39 World Cup downhill wins having come there.

Generally, men’s and women’s races aren’t contested on the same courses. At the 2014 World Cup downhills, a competition where Vonn was injured and didn’t compete, the winning women’s time was 2.32 seconds slower than the men’s. This is one of the only standards of 1:1 comparison in recent skiing.

Vonn is busy training for the Pyeongchang Olympics. She fractured her humerus bone last year, and has stated repeatedly that she intends to retire next year. While winning another gold is chief on her list of objectives, it seems racing against the men is a close second.

“I know I’m not going to win, but I would like to at least have the opportunity to try,” Vonn told the Denver Post earlier this year. “I think I’ve won enough World Cups where I should have enough respect within the industry to be able to have that opportunity.”

American skier Travis Ganong told ESPN on Wednesday he doesn’t have a problem with Vonn racing against men.

“I think it would be a cool kind of way to build the sport and get a lot of people fired up about something new and exciting.”

At the very least, the world deserves an exhibition competition featuring Vonn skiing against men. And while Skaardale’s “slippery slope” (an apt metaphor) concerns are understandable, it’s unlikely that men will be lining up to ski in women’s events. It’s also unlikely a rash of women will lobby to compete against men, giving the probability of embarrassing defeat.