VONNderful opportunity exists for International Ski Federation

Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. celebrates on the podium in Lake Louise. REUTERS/Andy Clark

Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. celebrates on the podium in Lake Louise. REUTERS/Andy Clark

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:18 PM ET

Skiing’s governing body has a golden opportunity Saturday to grow the sport in North America.

But most insiders believe it will almost certainly respond with a faceplant.

The notoriously stodgy members of the International Ski Federation (FIS) Council will meet Saturday in Switzerland for a meeting that will include a ruling on Lindsey Vonn’s request to ski against the men at Lake Louise Nov. 24.

Having dominated Lake Louise and the women’s World Cup circuit for years, the four-time overall champ wants to do what she routinely does in training — beat men.

She knows she can’t beat all of them.

Heck, few have gone on record suggesting she could crack the top 30.

That’s hardly the point.

What Vonn is offering is the continent’s only household name in women’s skiing to put the sport under a spotlight North Americans couldn’t possibly ignore.

While few in Canada or the U.S. could name the Olympic downhill champ (OK, so they wouldn’t be able to if it wasn’t, in fact, Vonn), her result at Lake Louise would be huge news.

I was sent to Fort Worth, Texas, back in 2003 when Annika Sorenstam teed it up at Colonial with the men.

The world was watching, and even though she missed the cut by four strokes, nobody could have called it a failure in any way.

That weekend, golf won.

FIS has been handed a similar opportunity, but many insiders believe the organization will trip over its own rulebook, which states skiers are prohibited from skiing on the course five days before a race to prevent anyone from gaining an unfair advantage.

The first men’s race is seven days before the women’s race on a similar course.

“She will not be allowed to do the women’s race the week after,” women’s race director Atle Skaardal has said.

Alpine Canada president Max Gartner believes FIS will refuse to make an exception for Vonn, putting her in jeopardy of missing out on crucial World Cup points the following week when the women are to ski at Lake Louise — something she’s not willing to do.

“I think they will come out in favour but will put it in her court by not allowing her to race in the women’s race (because of the training rules),” Gartner said.

“If they will say, ‘Yes,’ it will be interesting to see where they slot her in on the start-list.”

Obviously, she has no qualifying points on the men’s circuit, meaning she would most likely have to be the last out of the starting gate — a position that would prevent her from having any measure of success as the course is always chopped up by then.

Vonn has already offered to compromise, saying she’d forgo two training runs for the women’s race.

While most men on the World Cup circuit see it as publicity stunt they’re not keen on, Canadian female downhiller Kelly VanderBeek loves the idea.

“But I think it’s pretty much dead in the water,” said VanderBeek of Vonn’s request. “I’m hopeful it will stay on the table and happen somehow — they wrote the rules, so they can do what they see fit.

“I understand the integrity of the World Cup and all that, but you have to have some fun and wiggle room. But I think (FIS) will stand back and not even have to make a call — they’ll say it wasn’t appropriate to mess with her own federation, and the U.S. federation doesn’t want their superstar missing their home races in Aspen (the same weekend as the men’s races at Lake Louise).”

As a fan, VanderBeek wants to see it and believes Vonn has certainly earned that right.

“I think it would get the

U.S. market engaged,” said VanderBeek, who routinely sees sparse crowds in the hundreds of fans at Lake Louise.

“It’s a niche sport in the U.S. — the mass population isn’t relating to it. There are some events and some moments that cross bridges — and this is one of them.”


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