Vonn's bid catches eye of men's team

Lindsay Vonn of the U.S. reacts following her run during training for the Women's World Cup alpine...

Lindsay Vonn of the U.S. reacts following her run during training for the Women's World Cup alpine skiing race in Lake Louise, Alberta November 29, 2011. (REUTERS)

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:46 PM ET

CALGARY - Ben Thomsen may have been Alpine Canada's breakthrough skier of the year, but one of his chief concerns this year may be dishpan hands.

After all, if Lindsey Vonn gets her wish and is allowed to ski against the men next month at Lake Louise, Thomsen may be relegated to dishwashing duty all season long.

"Last year, we did some training with her and she did beat a few of the young guys -- myself included -- and our punishment was dishes for the rest of the camp," admitted the good-natured Thomsen, 25, who shocked many with his second-place finish outside Sochi, Russia, last year.

"Since Lake Louise is not in my wheelhouse, I am a little upset. I am worried I'll end up with a whole season of dishes. I would feel much more comfortable if she picked Kitzbuhel or Beaver Creek, as Lake Louise is probably the easiest track on our circuit."

Not that anybody in North America would notice, but the ski world is abuzz over Vonn's attempt to pull an Annika (Sorenstam.) As one of the most dominant female skiers in World Cup history. the four-time overall champ wants to see how she stacks up against the boys at the season-opening race in Lake Louise Nov. 24.

Few believe the stodgy old guard at the International Ski Federation (FIS) will see the wisdom in eliminating the red tape standing in her way. But aside from the odd male downhiller terrified he'll be beaten by a gal, most agree the move would be great for a sport almost completely ignored in North America.

While the eyes of millions of Europeans are on the season-openers in Canada, the Lake Louise events usually attract less than 1,000 spectators. That could change with the type of hype Vonn's proposed adventure would create, especially since she's won there nine times in 11 years. Last year, she won both downhills, including one by almost two seconds.

"I think it's a great idea -- everyone's talking about it," said longtime Canadian downhiller Kelly VanderBeek.

"I have fielded more media questions regarding this topic than anything else in at least a year. It will bring needed exposure to our sport and, as a fan, I'm curious to see how she does. I think media attention and superstars are good for any sport. The longevity and stardom of Lindsey will only help Alpine Ski racing."

The formal application has yet to be submitted for FIS to consider at upcoming meetings, but many believe the deal-breaker will be a rule prohibiting competitors from gaining an unfair advantage on the field by skiing on a race course within five days of training runs for a World Cup competition. Because the men's races are a week before the women's events, she would have to sit out the women's races -- something veteran skier Jan Hudec said he thinks would prove she's serious about the attempt.

Hudec likes the idea and the drama it would create, but figures the increased iciness and speed of the men's course would prevent her from being able to crack the coveted top 30, which is her stated goal.

VanderBeek doesn't think the difference between men's and women's tracks would put Vonn in an increasingly dangerous position, at all.

"I've forerun the men's track several times and there is little to no difference between their course and ours," she said.

"If anything, I prefer the men's track, because it has more flow, whereas often the women's track makes us turn awkwardly in order to slow us down."

Manny Osborne-Paradis agrees with Hudec's prediction and sees the value in the publicity, but worries about the integrity of the men's race. Crucial start numbers are earned, so where would she fit in?

"She's an amazing skier and we know how she stacks up against us -- she's definitely close, but I don't think she'd do as well as she thinks," said Osborne-Paradis, who says, on any given day, racers can have poor runs, opening up the possibility she could beat a number of men"Žlike Thomsen.

"What's important is Ben's a good dish-washer. He doesn't dry very well, but he makes sure the dishes are spotless."

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca


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