A weighted question
November 24, 2006
As a rule of thumb, it’s not polite to ask women about their weight – especially the day after Thanksgiving.That’s likely why Vail’s Lindsey Kildow raised her eyebrows Friday afternoon when asked if her success on the World Cup circuit the last two seasons had anything to do with her body mass.Then again, the question isn’t out of left field. While ski racing undeniably requires agility, there’s no getting past the physics of speed. The more muscle mass a ski racer can drawn upon, the greater amount of force they can exert. And greater force equals greater acceleration.Therefore, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that Kildow – the top American skier in the women’s overall standings the last two years – is also the biggest member of the U.S. women’s team at 5 feet, 10 inches and a toned 175 pounds.
Or is it?”It all depends on what events you want to be good at,” said Kildow, who finished fifth in the overall standings last season and was sixth the winter before. “For a downhill and a super G, it’s better to be a little bit taller and a little bit heavier. But you still have to be agile with your weight. For technical events, it seems like most of the girls that are pretty good are actually really short and pretty small.”Kildow isn’t alone in her opinion. A general survey of World Cup racers and coaches on Friday elicited similar responses, with most agreeing that more muscle mass is an advantage in the speed disciplines of super G and downhill, whereas it’s not as much of a factor in technical races.Kildow skis all four disciplines to pick up extra points for the overall, but she is strongest in the speed events. Last year she finished second in the final downhill standings and fourth in super G, compared to ninth in slalom and 49th in GS.
At the same time, there are holes in the argument that extra weight doesn’t carry as much weight in slalom and GS racing. Last season Croatia’s Janica Kostelic – who has a near identical build to Kildow, at 5 feet, 9 inches and 168 pounds – won her third overall title by winning nine different races across all five disciplines.The Croatian Sensation, who is sitting out this season because of chronic knee and back pain, had her best results in the technical races, with 10 top-three finishes in slalom (three of them wins) and two wins in GS.There’s also Anja Paerson – Kostelic’s friend and chief rival – to consider. Paerson, who finished second to Kostelic last year, after winning overall titles the two previous seasons, also has been strongest at technical events. She has 13 career wins in slalom and 11 in GS compared to a combined five victories in the speed events. She also won her first Olympic gold medal in slalom at the Turin Winter Games.And while she isn’t as tall as Kostelic and Kildow at 5 feet, 7 inches, Paerson weighs 172 pounds.In a sport where races are won or lost by hundredths of a second, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion having more muscle mass than most of your competition is an undeniable advantage over the course of the long season. So, shouldn’t everybody be trying to pack on the pounds?
Not exactly, said Julia Mancuso. And she’s got evidence to support her argument.At a diminutive 5 feet, 6 inches tall and just 140 pounds, Mancuso was the second-highest American finisher in the overall standings (eighth and ninth) the past two seasons. She also won the Olympic giant slalom in February. There are other girls on the U.S. team who carry more weight or are taller, but that doesn’t mean they’re faster.”I definitely think about [weight], but I can’t really change the way I am,” Mancuso said. “It’s hard in downhill, where I feel like it could be faster if I weighed more. But there’s definitely a balance there. If you’re smaller, you can be more agile. My outlook on sport is that it’s something I enjoy and I grew up doing it naturally. I never really felt the need to change my body size to be better at a sport. I feel this is the way God made me.”
Patrick Riml, the head coach of the women’s national team, also isn’t swayed by the evidence that suggests weight outweighs other factors when it comes to being consistently successful on the World Cup circuit. He certainly isn’t telling all his smaller skiers, like Mancuso, to beef up. He points to her success, as well as the success of Austria’s Kathrin Zettel – even lighter than Mancuso at 134 pounds – who finished seventh in the overall standings last season.”If you look at the stats, there are tall girls winning races and there are small girls winning races,” he said. “The size, obviously it helps you maybe a little bit, but you still have to be able to move quickly and be in a good position. It’s a matter of technique and being 100 percent committed and working out good. It’s finding the right mix between strength and quickness. Maybe in speed it helps a little bit if you’re bigger, but not that much.”As for Kildow, like Mancuso, she’s happy the way God made her. She wouldn’t want to change anything if she could. “I’m very agile for my size and I think that really helps a lot, just moving quickly and being dynamic,” she said. “You can’t do that if you’re not in good shape. I think the last couple of years, I’ve been the same weight for a while and I feel that’s the perfect zone for me. It’s all just relative to your own self. For me, where I’m at it’s just really good.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.