May 26th, 2018

Let Vonn race against the men

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on December 6, 2017.

While “Battle of the Sexes” plays at the Movie Mill, telling the story of Billie Jean King’s victory over Bobby Riggs on the tennis court back in 1973, the most decorated woman in alpine skiing is trying to take the battle to the ski hill.

American Lindsey Vonn continues to lobby the world governing body to allow her to compete in the men’s World Cup ski race in Lake Louise in 2018. She tried once before, five years ago, but was turned down. Last week, Vonn said she is even willing to forgo competing in the women’s event which takes place a week after the men’s race, since the similarity of the two courses could give her an unfair advantage over the other female skiers.

Though her previous bid to race against the men was flatly rejected, Vonn is continuing her quest.

“It’s important to try to push the glass ceiling,” Vonn said in a Canadian Press interview last week. “The higher each person can push it, the more opportunities the next generation will have. If I can get this accomplished, who knows what’s possible down the road?

“Billie Jean King set the bar when she had Battle of the Sexes and everyone thought it was show, but it changed women in sports and it changed tennis. It helped women get equal pay.”

One person who is on Vonn’s side is retired hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser.

“People love boxes and Lindsey doesn’t belong in one,” Wickenheiser said in a National Post column back in January. “She is good enough to compete, I don’t see what the issue is. A skier is a skier.”

Wickenheiser knows a little something about competing against men. The longtime star with Canada’s women’s Olympic hockey team was the first woman to play full-time professional hockey at a position other than goalie, playing parts of three seasons in men’s pro leagues, where she held her own against male competition. In 2002-03, with HC Salamat in a Finnish men’s league, she registered seven points in 11 playoff games, a total most male players would be delighted to have.

Women have occasionally gone head-to-head with men on the golf course. The first was the great Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who played against men in the Los Angeles Open in 1938 and again in 1945, before the formation of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (which she helped found).

In more recent years, female golfers Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie teed it up against the men, with varying degrees of success.

Vonn’s resume suggests she has earned an opportunity to test herself against the opposite sex. She has a record 77 victories in women’s World Cup competition and is closing in on the men’s record of 86 held by Ingemar Stenmark. At age 33, the window is closing on her skiing prime, so it’s understandable why she’s pushing so strongly to compete on the men’s World Cup course next spring.

Where to slot Vonn into the field is a legitimate issue, since racing order is determined by accumulated World Cup points, and an earlier race slot is beneficial. But Vonn is willing to go last if necessary.

“I wouldn’t have a great chance of doing well, but whatever it takes” she said. “Just put me the dang race.”

Critics might suggest letting Vonn compete in the men’s race would turn the event into a sideshow. Certainly having Vonn in the field would become the focus, but would it be a bad thing to attract more publicity for a World Cup event? And, likely, it would be a huge amount of publicity.

It’s important to remember this isn’t a case of Eddie the Eagle, the not-so-skilled ski jumper from Britain who became a media sensation at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. This is Lindsey Vonn, an elite professional skier, one of the best in the world, regardless of gender.

Allowing Vonn to compete against men on a World Cup course might just do for women’s skiing what Billy Jean King did for women’s tennis 44 years ago. It would almost certainly inspire a new generation of girls to want to follow in Vonn’s ski tracks.

Is there anything wrong with that?

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One Response to “Let Vonn race against the men”

  1. biff says:

    billie jean king was still in her prime at the time. bobby riggs was an old man, about 20-25 years past his prime. yeah, this proved a lot. moreover, billie jean king’s physical traits may have represented less the typical female.
    as for male and female sports spheres, they exist because there remains a gap in physicality between the sexes. perhaps a perspective worth examining is: if the best females can access the male sports spheres, and bump some males from teams or individual competitions, can the least competitive males access female sports spheres?
    perhaps, rather than make any rash decisions on the vonn case, another battle of the sexes should first be held: vonn v jean-claude killy, or vonn v ken reid, just so we can be sure this young lady – like king v riggs – can measure up to old men.

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