A "Battle of the Sexes" for Ski Racing?

Lindsay Vonn hopes to race World Cup against the men at Lake Louise.
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Lindsay Vonn hopes to race World Cup against the men at Lake Louise.
Vonn Out tout

Editor’s note: Watch for a full feature on Lindsey Vonn and her quest to set the all-time record for World Cup wins in the December issue of SKI. Here’s an excerpt, focusing on her continuing quest to be allowed to race against the men.

“My dad’s a lawyer,” says Lindsey Vonn, stressing how serious she is about being allowed to race against the men in a World Cup at Lake Louise, Alberta. And Alan Kildow, Lindsey’s lawyer dad, isn’t surprised by such defiant talk from his world-beating daughter. “There’s a country song,” Kildow says at the end of an interview about the legalities involved in Lindsey’s quest to race against the men. “It’s called ‘She’s a Wild One,’ and if you listen to it, that’s her.”

It’s easy to see how the Faith Hill tune could resonate with Kildow. When she was three years old on her daddy’s knee, he said you can be anything you want to be. She’s a wild one. Runnin’ free.

And it’s easy to find support for the idea among race-world insiders. “I’d love to see it,” says sports agent Ken Sowles, whose clients include Ted Ligety. “The sport needs as much excitement as possible.”

Kildow agrees. “It just seems to me it would be a highly watched sports event for skiing.”

It’s not yet known whether the FIS officials will dig in and resist. Kildow, like many others, hopes they won’t. But: “Under U.S. law, I think they could be compelled to let her race,” he says. “I think the host country, the Canadian Ski Association, could say, sure, we’re going to permit this, and then the U.S. Ski Team could use one of their spots for Lindsey. Then the conundrum would be seeding, because there’s strict protocol on how races are seeded. She might end up racing last, but I don’t know.”

Kildow says he’s heard that the team would be in favor of it. “I’ve also heard through the grapevine that the folks against it are some of the men, because she trains with men all the time—Norwegians, Austrians, the U.S.—and there are time trials. So she knows how competitive she can be. She’s not doing this because she wants to come in 41st.”

In fact, as Kildow has heard, the team does sound supportive. “Lindsey has been a transformational figure in the global promotion of alpine ski racing,” says USST executive VP Luke Bodensteiner in an e-mail. “Her racing against the men could bring even broader awareness, and it’s an interesting idea that we would like to support.”

There are precedents. In golf: Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie. In car racing: Danica Patrick. And everyone references the King-Riggs battle of the sexes—a ratings bonanza for tennis in 1973.

But Vonn’s not interested in an unofficial exhibition race, Kildow says. “She wants to be an actual competitor. She wants an official result.”