For years, fans have been hearing about how Lindsey Vonn wants to compete in a men’s World Cup race and that she has been continually denied the opportunity to fulfill this dream. But there’s less information available on the logistics of what it would take to actually make that happen and the obstacles in the way. The picture just got a little clearer with some help from Vonn herself and U.S. Ski & Snowboard Alpine Director Patrick Riml.
Riml intends to put forth a new proposal for the International Ski Federation (FIS) this October, written in conjunction with the American speed star. The proposal could go in one of two directions: Vonn could get a special exemption for one race (likely Lake Louise) or men’s races could be opened up to women if female athletes meet specific criteria.
“I would take either, but I think obviously the singular exception would be easier because then I don’t have to go and build up a whole point profile with FIS points on the men’s side,” Vonn says. “That might take me a little bit of time, but it’s not impossible.”
Riml and Vonn are still deciding the best course of action on how they can use the current World Cup rules to their advantage, and they will factor in the fact that FIS rejected a similar proposal from Vonn back in 2012. On their path to victory, there are a few specific obstacles in their way.
Qualifying for a men’s race
As of right now, there is no way for women to translate their points and ranking into the men’s circuit. Therefore, it is not possible for a woman to qualify for a men’s World Cup race. The proposal from U.S. Ski & Snowboard (which would allow all women to qualify for men’s races) could state that women will need to lower their points profile in men’s FIS races to below 80 points before stepping foot on a World Cup track.
“If we have to go that route that she needs to submit a proposal for any female athlete, it would be that the ladies would have to get men’s points, so they would have to start with 999 at a FIS race to get 80 points on the men’s side and the start order would have to be determined with the proposal depending on World Cup victories or accomplishments in the past,” Riml explains.
In this instance, fans could see athletes like Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec or Switzerland’s Lara Gut testing their talent at men’s races, though Vonn is the only athlete who has publicly expressed interest in the venture at this time.
Existing rules about venue access before a race
Current World Cup rules state, “During the last five days before the official start of the training/scheduled free skiing for a FIS World Cup event, or before the first competition, no training shall be allowed on World Cup courses – irrespective of the events and courses.”
If Vonn were to get a special exemption to compete with the men in Lake Louise, she would be in violation of this rule because the women’s series on the same slope begins less than 48 hours after the men’s races end. That venue is lovingly known as “Lake Lindsey,” so forfeiting her right to start the women’s race could be tough because it’s an opportunity to get closer to the all-time wins record currently held by Ingemar Stenmark. But she’s willing to do it.
“Yeah, I would, but I don’t want to give up my entire FIS eligibility on the women’s side,” Vonn explains.
Basically, Vonn isn’t willing to give up her ability to continue to race on the women’s World Cup circuit just to compete in one race against the men.
“Do I lose my women’s FIS points?” Vonn ponders. “Because that would mean my career would be over on the women’s side, and that’s an issue for me because I don’t know when I would like to retire.”
In a recent interview, FIS Ladies’ Chief Race Director Atle Skaardal expressed concerns about the potential issues with gender equality.
“It will be a very difficult challenge to find a reasonable way of doing this because one point that everyone is underestimating is that we need to have equal rights for everyone,” Skaardal says. “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. I see it as a very difficult topic.
“Some of these guys, I don’t think they see the big picture of the value this could be because then they’re saying if the girls can run men’s races then the men should be allowed to run women’s races, which is completely ridiculous to me,” Riml shares.
While Vonn respects Skaardal’s perspective, she does see a way around opening the floodgates in both directions.
“I understand that point in theory, but no man is going to want to race against the women,” Vonn reasons. “I mean, I just don’t see it ever being an issue. That’s why I think that the singular exception would be best because it’s not necessarily allowing women to race with men all the time. It’s a one-time exception.”
Assuming they are able to overcome these hurdles, Vonn has realistic expectations when it comes to competing with the men.
“I would try to get in the top 30,” the American says. “I think that would be doable. In men’s races, they’re so tight there’s usually only a second and a half to 30th, especially in Lake Louise where it’s an easier track for them.”
Based on Vonn’s own account of her past training sessions with top male athletes like Aksel Lund Svindal, she believes she stands a chance at doing that.
“A couple years ago, like in 2011-2012, when I was first talking about racing against the men, I was the same pace and sometimes beating Aksel. And I know that’s training, and I can’t really brag about it, but at the same time, I was skiing really well and I think that said a lot for my form at the time, which ended up being my best season ever,” Vonn recalls.
Vonn has her doubts about whether or not FIS will ever approve her request. Even if FIS does not get on board, there is always the option of an exhibition race hosted outside the confines of World Cup rules.
“I don’t feel like we’re getting a lot of traction,” Vonn reveals. “I feel like we’ve been kind of repeating the same process over and over, and it’s not getting any better. So, I think maybe another route that we haven’t discussed yet and what I need to organize myself would be an exhibition, which I don’t really want to do, but I will do if that’s the only route.”
While Vonn would prefer to take the World Cup route, she would consider the idea of partnering with a sponsor like RedBull to host a “Battle of the Sexes” event.
“In some ways I see that, at this point, as the only way to get it done. I think this is still going to take a long time. I’m still going to push to have it be formally the same. But if like I said, it doesn’t work, then yeah. Lake Louise is interested. I’m sure we can figure out something in everyone’s schedule that works, and I could host the top-30 men or something like that. I haven’t really put a lot of thought into how the set up would be, but I know an exhibition – if we were to raise enough money – would draw the same effort level from the men and the same interest as the World Cup.”
FIS officials meet in Zurich, Switzerland, from Oct. 3-7, 2017, and hopefully after that, Vonn and fans will have a better idea if they’ll ever see her compete against the men on the World Cup.