Olympic skiing champion Lindsey Vonn has launched an audacious and ground-breaking bid to compete against male opponents at a World Cup event on November 21.
The 2010 downhill gold medalist in the Vancouver Games believes that squaring off against the best men's skiers in the world will boost the image of the women's tour, which she dominated again this past season to cement her place as world No.1.
Vonn has sent a letter seeking special dispensation to participate to veteran skiing official Gunter Hujara, who is race director of the event in Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. If the idea is approved, Vonn would miss a women's World Cup event in Aspen, Colorado.
Vonn has long craved the chance to pit her talents against male racers and believes that in the future leading women skiers can compete against men on equal footing. Much of her training is done with men, and she claims to have beaten members of the Canadian national team during practice.
"I am just trying to push myself and push my skiing forward to where the men are," she told the Associated Press last year. "That's something that is really driving and motivating me. Everyone thinks that women can't be even in the same event as men as far as skiing goes, and I feel like I can push myself to be close and competitive with them."
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Vonn’s request now depends upon the approval of skiing chiefs, who will discuss the issue at an official meeting of the International Ski Federation in two weeks.
Organizers of the women's circuit will also be involved in the discussions, and while officials see the potential marketing and publicity benefits of having Vonn race against the men, there are some logistical hurdles to overcome.
"We have been talking about it but no decision has been taken yet," said Norway's Atle Skaardal, race director for the women's World Cup. "It is necessary to go through the rules to see if there is a way to do this and also a reason to do it."
An ISF official told Yahoo! Sports on Saturday that the official rulebook does not contain specific rules on gender and that a situation such as Vonn's request may not be covered by the organization's regulations. In that instance, ISF committee members would need to decide whether putting Vonn in the race would be of benefit to the sport.
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One potential drawback would be that the women's tour is scheduled to stop in Lake Louise immediately after the men's event. While Vonn would miss out on the chance to pick up points at the women's competition in Aspen, she would have the advantage over her rivals of having already raced on the Lake Louise course.
"It is complicated because no racer is supposed to ski on a race course a week prior to his or her competition," Skaardal said. "If Lindsey Vonn could train and compete with the men in November, she would have a huge advantage on her rivals the following week during the women's races on the same course."
Vonn has won 10 career events at Lake Louise and lists the course as one of her favorites. She won three out of three events the last time the women's circuit visited the venue in 2011.
According to Reuters, however, experts claim that Vonn may be as much as five seconds off the pace if she goes head-to-head in a men's race.
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