Lindsey Vonn’s Dream Race: Men vs Women — Could It Become Reality?

Julia Schneemann | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Lindsey Vonn
The best female alpine race skier, Lindsey Vonn, with 82 World Cup victories, picture: USSkiTeam

Ten years ago, in 2012, at the peak of her career, Lindsey Vonn announced her intention to compete alongside the men in the Lake Louise FIS Alpine World Cup Downhill race. Unfortunately, this never came to fruition due to logistical issues, as it would have resulted in her missing out on too many Women’s World Cup races, thus risking her FIS ranking and Crystal Globe hunt. She later repeated this request in the fall of 2017, but FIS declared that mixed races were against the rules, and the dream was forever shelved.

Most alpine ski races are separate events carried out on different courses for men and women. Typically the women’s course is shorter and slightly less difficult in gate setting as men have more body weight and strength to carry them down a longer and technically more challenging course. The only alpine race where male and female skiers compete alongside has been the mixed parallel slalom event, which was an Olympic event in Beijing. While the men face off against men and the women against women, the competition is run on the same course on the same day.

Parallel slalom
The mixed parallel slalom event at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, picture: DSV

The idea was raised again before the canceled Sölden race. Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn’s teammate until the latter retired from racing, said, “If it’s just for a show and for excitement and a spectacle? Great, let’s do it. I think people would be interested in it.”

Italy’s Sofia Goggia suggested, “I would like maybe to have a sort of combined, with women racing downhill and men slalom. This would be interesting, like racing in a team. But the women on one discipline and the men on the other discipline. Otherwise, it would not be fair.”

Critics have always called it a publicity stunt or an unfair comparison, highlighting men’s physical advantage and dismissing the idea. For Vonn, however, the idea was not so much about publicity but instead born out of a pure passion for her sport and competitiveness. “The men are the highest level of our sport,” Vonn had said back in 2017 when she tried unsuccessfully to resurrect the idea. “I’ve won a lot of races in my career, and this is something that’s a new challenge. I want to push myself and see where I stand against the best skiers in the world. Obviously, it’s nothing against women, I think that the level in women’s ski racing is amazing, but, at the same time, I’ve definitely reached a point in my career where I’m looking for something new, looking for a new challenge. It’s nothing to do with media or attention. I’ve plenty of stuff going on outside skiing. It’s something that I personally want to do.”

As the most successful female alpine skier of all time, it is understandable that she felt driven to compete against the fastest in the field. If they happened to be men, so be it. I think a lot can be said about her drive, but Lindsey Vonn is well aware of the publicity it would raise and compared her suggestion to the famous 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match of female tennis player Billie Jean King against 55-year-old Bobby Riggs. Vonn acknowledged, “You look at what Billie Jean King did, that was an incredible boost for women in tennis. The same goes for [Swedish golfer] Annika. It was a big deal. I think it would be a great opportunity for women in sports and for ski racing as well. It would draw a lot of attention and a lot of much-needed international publicity.”

Annika Sorenstam understands why Vonn was so driven to compete against the men. “How does she get better, that extra challenge?” Sorenstam said back in 2017. “When you get to a certain point, you need that little extra that gets you more fired up. It would be great if she did it. There’s more to talk about, and men and women together is never a bad thing. It would draw a lot of publicity and excitement. She’d get a lot of fans. She’s not there to prove something other than getting better.”

Maybe the idea will yet be picked up in one format or another. Direct competitions between athletes of the opposite sex have always drawn great crowds. The “Battle of the Sexes” tennis game between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs was watched by 50 million Americans. It could boost the viewership of ski events, which would result in higher prize money for the racers. The highest prize money is the Hahnenkamm downhill race in Austria, where the winner is awarded CHF 100,000 (roughly the same in USD, prize money in skiing is in Swiss Franks as the International Ski & Snowboard Federation is situated in Switzerland), which pales in comparison to the ATP tennis prize money or PGA golf tours.

The Finish Area of the Hahnenkamm race, picture: Helly Hansen (one of the sponsors of the race)

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3 thoughts on “Lindsey Vonn’s Dream Race: Men vs Women — Could It Become Reality?

  1. So true. I use to forerun the World Cup downhill in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and when it was with the women I would routinely beat all of them by several seconds. I was 195lbs, so that’s a huge advantage in a downhill.

  2. I haven’t followed FIS skiing since pre-covid but women would get crushed in slaloms. marcel hirscher vs shiffron…please. The women might have a chance to keep it close in the speed events but the physics tell me the men would dust the women in the flats. It would be an interesting novelty race until smoking the girls gets old…which would be after race #1

  3. This is a real possibility. While the woman’s upper body is outclassed by the the man’s upper body, the lower body is where the skiing is done and where the woman is at her strongest. I vividly remember trying to follow Joan Hannah on Cannon Mt.

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