Lindsey Vonn proved again Friday and Saturday she is far and away the best women’s downhill racer in the world.
As has been the case the past few years, she did it while racing on men’s skis.
What Vonn had really wanted to do, though, was race the guys, but the old boys who run the International Ski Federation nixed that entertaining idea.
So we are left to draw some interesting but absolutely flawed conclusions based on how fast the men covered the downhill course in Lake Louise, Canada last week compared to how fast Vonn did while crushing the women’s field on the same hill Friday.
One thing is clear: the way Vonn looked winning by a whopping 1.73 seconds over U.S. teammate Stacey Cook, she would not have embarrassed herself against the men.
The obvious caveat is this is like comparing apples and aardvarks.
It’s often impossible to compare fairly the performances of two skiers in the same race, given how dramatically weather conditions (wind, falling snow, fog – all present Friday) can change from one racer to the next.
So, doing it for skiers on courses with different set-ups a week apart is obviously much harder, even if the tracks were about the same length (3,129 meters for the women, 3,106 for the men) with the same vertical drop (799 meters women, 801 men).
However, in this virtual reality game:
*Vonn’s top speed Friday, 83.88 miles per hour, was slower than that of just one man, the Czech Jan Hudek (84.25).
*Vonn’s average speed, 62.12 mph, would have ranked 47th of the 61 men last week. The men’s winner, Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, averaged 64.11.
"I was trying to prove a point today, mostly to myself plus everyone who doesn’t think I should race the men," Vonn said Friday.
"I kind of felt like I had to win today. When you say you want to race the men, you can't really not win the women’s races."
Only one woman ever has won more World Cup races than Vonn after her career total reached 55 with another win Saturday: Austria’s Annemarie Moser Proell (62). Only Moser Proell (36) has won more downhills than Vonn (28).
Vonn was slightly slower (61.96 mph average) on the same course Saturday, although that owed to missing a turn so badly she nearly slid into safety nets before recovering to beat Cook again, this time by .52. Vonn remarkably has racked up 10 wins and three seconds in the last 13 Lake Louise downhills over eight seasons (no wonder they call the place Lake Lindsey), no matter that she came into Friday's well under her usual preparation and fitness level because of a recent illness.
That she races on men’s skis – longer, stiffer and harder to control - is a testament to her strength and technical mastery.
Trying to see how well she matches up against men on those boards can only be a boost for a sport starving for attention in North America.
Sure, the attention would be fleeting and sure, there is the risk that she would finish so far behind the net result might be diminished appreciation of women’s skills.
(I can only imagine the gleeful cackling from the International Ski Federation’s council – 17 men and one woman – who rejected her request for a Battle of the Sexes last month, demeaning themselves and belittling her with an invitation to be a forerunner for the men’s race.)
As it turned out, the timing would have been poor for Vonn. She was hospitalized two nights in mid-November with severe intestinal pain, and the after-effect was feeling too weak to train for 10 days.
That didn’t temper her competitiveness.
“I want to compare with actual men's times in an actual race, instead of trying to compare men's and women's times,” she said. “Hopefully it works out.”
Skiing needs to man up and make it happen.
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