By Kelly Vanderbeek
If the “Tiger Woods Effect” can increase ratings for a golf tournament in which he’s pushing for the title by 30-50 percent in some estimates, then what is the potential “Lindsey Vonn Effect” if she’s allowed to race the men’s downhill at Lake Louise?
This, among many, questions are being raised within the ski community as no topic is hotter than whether Vonn will be allowed to race in the men’s World Cup event at Lake Louise in late November.
Everyone has an opinion. And, no surprise, so do I.
I’ll come right out and say it: I think it’s a great idea. Superstars are good for sport, and Lindsey is great for ski racing. The exposure already garnered from her request to compete against the men is nothing short of amazing.
As today’s sports live and die by TV ratings, it’s no secret that superstars make the difference. Whether it’s Tiger, Sidney Crosby or Roger Federer, fans like to watch their stars come out and play.
I don’t want to make my support for Lindsey to race with the men only about viewership, because it’s not. Simply put, I’m a fan of sport, and it would make for one interesting race to watch.
If Lindsey is given the opportunity to compete against the men at Lake Louise, let’s take a look at some of the logistics:
What start number would Lindsey be given? I would suggest just outside the top 30. This is where they slot, for example, a 500-plus World Cup points slalom skier who wants to test her skills in a World Cup downhill. It’s not to say that Lindsey is better than the men she would start ahead of, but it is saying that she has earned the right for that start position. I don’t feel she has earned the right to start within the top 30.
I’ve served as a forerunner on the men’s course at Lake Louise a few times, and I actually prefer it to the women’s. The course designers don’t try for too many turns on the Wiwaxy Flats section, or add an extra gate in Coaches Corner. It’s little things like that, all over the course, that result in a more fluid feeling. As for ice, well, by race day the women’s track is down to the same icy, hard surfaces the men race on.
Still, what if Lindsey does crash in the men’s race? Yes, this is possible, as it’s always possible in any race or training run. She has dealt with huge pressure before, so I firmly believe that, on the Lake Louise track, it shouldn’t come into question. In my opinion, there is no elevated risk in her racing with the men at Lake Louise.
This being said, Lindsey has just upped the ante by saying she hopes to race at Kitzbuehel before she retires. Now, that track is an entirely different story on the safety scale. I think it’s absolutely insane for any human being to be traveling down that track at speeds of 160km/h, male or female.
Still, Kitzbuehel’s Hahnenkamm being considered a men-only track is a misnomer. Women have raced on this track 19 times, the last time being in 1961. It can be done. I just think Lindsey would be a bit crazy to do it, just as I think everyone who does it is a bit crazy.
Some people have also spoken of the integrity of the World Cup being compromised if Lindsey is allowed to race against men. I’m a firm believer in the honour and tradition that is alpine skiing and the World Cup circuit. I don’t expect women racing with the men to become commonplace by any means. Just as Annika Sorenstam and Hayley Wickenheiser didn’t change the game in their respective sports of golf and hockey by playing with the men.
Yes, Lindsay racing with the men would add one extra set of tracks on the course. If the men racing after her think that’s enough to make or break their chances of competing for overall points and making a living, then they have the right to. But I would argue they’re just afraid of being beaten. They just may have to suck it up and follow a girl. The inner 12-year-old kid in me is smiling just thinking about it!
Who to watch at the World Cup opener
Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the World Cup opener this weekend in Soelden, Austria, where giant slalom races are on tap for both men and women.
Athletes from around the world have worked their butts off (or butts on, as is the case in our sport) to be ready for this weekend.
Canadian women to watch this Saturday include Marie-Michele Gagnon, who last winter earned her first podium with a bronze in a slalom race. Another name many will recognize is Alpine Canada’s new star Erin Mielzynski. Her slalom win last season stunned many people, but we all knew she had the talent and work ethic to excel. From what I hear, Erin’s GS has improved greatly this summer and she is becoming competitive within the top ranks. It’s likely that Soelden won’t be her favourite hill, but it’s the start of what may be a great GS career (And, Erin, if you’re reading this, notice this move takes you one step closer to the speed events!). Marie-Pier Prefontaine will also be competing, and if she races like she trains, she’s someone to be reckoned with.
On our men’s team, you can expect to see one of Alpine Canada’s veterans, J.P. Roy, along with some young talent in Dustin Cook and Trevor Philp, representing the Maple Leaf on Sunday.
I’ve warmed up my lungs to help cheer on our Canucks this weekend. Have you?