I wish Lindsey Vonn wasn't in Aspen this weekend. It bums me out. Don't get me wrong. I am thrilled that the best female racers in the world are here to compete on the greatest ski mountain on the planet. I only wish she wasn't one of them. Really, it's nothing personal.
It's about a lot of talk that had the potential to be really exciting. I wish Vonn was in Canada to race in the men's World Cup downhill race in Lake Louise, Alberta instead of here. That would have been sweet ... in the cool sense, not the feminine.
The thought of the world's fastest woman on skis competing with the fastest men in the world is intriguing. It harkens back to a time in Aspen, not so long ago, when a woman was whipping every single man in our own town race series. I'm not talking recreation division, either. It was top fuel, open class, balls to the walls 'A' league racing. Her name was Anda Rojs (now Smalls), and she was fast!
Even here in forever enlightened Aspen she wasn't officially allowed to race head-to-head against the men. She was technically in the women's division, and if you check the archives, you will see that she was not given credit for winning the men's title. But people in the know know that it was harder to win the women's division that season. Since the women and men raced on the same courses, the times they earned were directly comparable, and Anda beat every man in every single run of every single race of the entire season. There was no question about who was best!
I remember that winter an alter ego of mine, Todd Coghi, declared, "A woman will never beat me in ski racing!" He was very certain of that. "I'm not saying she can't beat me," he continued. "I'm just saying she won't." The implication was that you were not going to catch him anywhere near a town race series course where he was sure to be humiliated by her.
Now, I'm sure there was some thinking like this going on when the heads of the International Ski Federation got together for some preseason scratching. You have to admit, it would be at least a little humiliating for men who have reached the highest echelon of ski racing to get beat by a woman, no matter that she is super-human. However, this is not the reason Vonn is here instead of Canada.
The reason Vonn is here in Aspen racing this weekend is that if she wasn't, very few others would be either. She's the draw. She's the hook that landed big-fish NBC to broadcast parts of the races here on live national television. Without her, our event is a non-event. So, it isn't some grand conspiracy that is preventing Vonn from competing with the men. It's just a shortsighted business decision.
I doubt that Vonn was going to win the Lake Louise downhill Saturday. My best guess is that she was not going to podium or even reach the top 10 or 20. But she might have, and almost certainly, she was going to beat a few of the men. And that would have been something; truly a story that would have spread as far and fast across the globe as her name and face have, exactly what ski racing, at least in this country, needs. I'm speaking of broad appeal here!
There aren't many sports where men and women can compete against each other at the highest level. OK, King beat Riggs in tennis some 30 years ago, but that was more old versus young than male against female, and chess isn't a sport. But in skiing and auto racing, the girls have a legitimate shot at making a legitimate statement.
Two huge factors determining the outcome in ski racing barely discriminate against sex and level the playing field, so to speak. First, the all-important technically advanced equipment. It works equally well for both men and women. Second, gravity provides nearly equal opportunity for all. In our atmosphere on snow it slightly favors those who weigh more, but overall it is pretty constant. The upshot is that women have a better shot at competing with men in skiing than they do in most sports.
This is why I wish Vonn wasn't here this weekend. I think coed ski racing has a potential appeal worth exploring. I'm not saying a woman will ever win a World Cup ski race against men. But I'm not saying one can't, either.