Lindsey Vonn learned to ski on a 300-foot slope steps from Interstate 35 in Minnesota and turned herself into the most accomplished American skier in history.
She crashed in a training run at the 2006 Winter Olympics and had to be air-lifted to the hospital, yet came back to compete in the race two days later (she finished eighth). She severely bruised her knee in a training run before the 2010 Olympics but overcame the injury to become the first American woman to win gold in the downhill. She won the World Cup overall title three consecutive years (2008 to 2010) and four times total, and has World Cup victories in all five events.
She posed for Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue and even won a cow in a race.
Vonn has done virtually everything a skier can do in her sport except compete in a World Cup race against men. And that will still be the case Thanksgiving weekend.
Over the weekend, the International Ski Federation (FIS) rejected Vonn’s request to compete against men at the World Cup race at Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada, the final weekend of November. In a statement, the FIS said: "One gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other and exceptions will not be made to the FIS Rules."
Vonn did not have a public comment. Bill Marolt, president of U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, said Vonn "has achieved greatness from her tenacity in seeking new challenges. We’re disappointed that the FIS Council did not support the proposal but also respect its direction."
As I wrote when Vonn first made her request, watching her race against Bode Miller, Ted Ligety and Marcel Hirscher would have been great fun. But it also would have taken away from her fellow skiers that same weekend when they compete in Aspen, Colo., at the only women’s World Cup race held in the United States this season.
I respect Vonn's desire to challenge herself, and I wish her another superb season. But there is a reason the genders compete separately in sports. In addition to allowing opportunities for women, it provides them with important attention and financial possibilities. If a woman feels she has the skill to compete against men, by all means she should be allowed to do so. But only if she is willing to truly compete, which means competing throughout an entire season, not just when it would be fun or challenging or convenient.
After all, as good as she is, Diana Taurasi won’t get to play in one select NBA game just to challenge herself.