November 3, 2012
World Cup skiing denies Vonn's request to race with men
By ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency
And now you know why World Cup skiing is almost completely irrelevant in North America.
Now you know why Lake Louise organizers are lucky to see 500 spectators at World Cup races and why a sport so adored in Europe is destined to remain insignificant here.
Proving once again they either don’t know a thing about marketing – or simply don’t care enough about bolstering the sport in Canada or the U.S. – International Ski Federation (FIS) officials turned down Lindsey Vonn’s request Saturday to ski against the men later this month at Lake Louise.
“The Council respected Lindsey Vonn’s proposal to participate in men’s World Cup races and confirmed that one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other and exceptions will not be made to the FIS Rules,” read the ruling.
Most insiders figured the stodgy old guard at FIS would blow the single-best opportunity to market the sport outside Europe in decades.
The belief was that they’d deny the four-time overall World Cup champ based on a rule prohibiting racers from skiing on a course within a week of an upcoming race – after all, the women’s downhill is seven days after the men’s race on Nov. 24 and she didn’t want to miss the women’s events.
However, instead of bending the rules to capitalize on an event that would have attracted the interest of media and fans from outside the tony ski circuit, FIS simply decided men and women shall never compete together.
How very 1950’s.
Instead of embracing the uniqueness of a once-in-a-lifetime showdown that would have captured the attention of a North American audience that couldn’t name a skier outside of Vonn, FIS faceplanted.
In an equally insulting move the federation added Vonn “‘is welcome to submit a request to the organizing committee and jury” at Lake Louise “to be a forerunner.”
It was an ignorant addendum given that women have served as forerunners on men’s courses for years. And while the pre-race testers are timed to give them an idea how they stack up against the field FIS said such an informal ski would still prohibit Vonn from skiing the same course against women a week later.
“I’m disappointed to hear that Lindsey will not be racing against the men in Lake Louise,” said Alpine Canada president Max Gartner, echoing the thoughts of all stakeholders in the event.
“I saw it as a great opportunity to raise the profile of the sport by attracting interest from people who do not normally follow ski racing, particularly in North America. It would have provided a great platform to showcase our sport and the amazing athletic performances of our athletes.
“Lindsey has achieved many milestones in ladies’ ski racing. It would have been interesting to see how she stacked up against the best male racers in the world. Lake Louise is the perfect venue to have that comparison because Lindsey has as much experience on the mountain as many of the men have had.
“I hope Lindsey gets a chance to fulfill her dream at a later date.”
And so, skiing will stay off the sporting map in North America despite Vonn’s best efforts. Sponsors, viewers and spectators will continue to ignore a sport with no profile and very little following here – something that could have changed with one open-minded decision in Switzerland Saturday.
Skiing will not get its Annika moment, its Billie Jean boost, its Lindsey lift.
It will get exactly what it deserves: no attention whatsoever.