Lindsey Vonn’s statement of intent for the coming season is more than clear: She is ready to race, against the men.
The sport’s world governing body, the International Ski Federation (FIS), is not likely to allow that, but it stands as testament to the American’s continuing dominance of the women’s disciplines.
The FIS will officially decide early next month whether Vonn can race against the men in the Canadian resort of Lake Louise, her proviso being that she be allowed to race in the women’s series a week later.
“If it’s not possible to do the women’s World Cup race in Lake Louise, then I definitely won’t race with the men either,” Vonn said.
The FIS answer is likely to be a resounding “no,” given that she would be given an unfair advantage if she has a longer time training and racing on the same slope.
Vonn, 28, last year claimed her fourth overall title in five seasons based on her strengths in the speed disciplines of the super-G and downhill, as well as a breakthrough victory in the giant slalom.
Her season-long assault got her 53 World Cup wins and 97 podiums.
Only retired duo Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria, with 62, and Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider, 55, have more victories, records that will surely fall should Vonn maintain her form and steer clear of injury.
Her one blip on the World Cup circuit came last year when she lost the overall title to close friend Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany by a tiny three-point margin.
The men’s overall title last season went down to the wire, Austria’s Marcel Hirscher just outpointing Switzerland’s Beat Feuz.
This season, featuring 37 races and bisected by the February 5-17 World Ski Championships in the Austrian resort of Schladming, starts this weekend in nearby Soelden and will be notable for the absence of Swiss veteran Didier Cuche.
The overall title could again come down to a dogfight between Hirscher, Feuz, Norwegian stalwart Aksel Lund Svindal and Croatian Ivica Kostelic.
Kostelic (2011), Swiss Carlo Janka (2010), Svindal (2007, 2009) and American Bode Miller (2008) have taken the crystal globes home in recent years, while Feuz is considered the up and coming racer.
There have been technical changes enforced on manufacturers by the FIS for the coming season and the reaction from skiers and ski-makers has been very mixed.
Ski lengths, which differ for each event, have increased while their width has been reduced.
FIS implemented the changes in a bid to make the skis “more physical,” requiring the skier to work harder to execute turns and, as a result, slowing them down in a bid to make the sport safer to a degree.
Austrian racer Hans Grugger’s gruesome wipe-out on the downhill ski run in Kitzbuehel in January last year again highlighted the risks of the sport.
Gradients are in excess of 85 percent in places and skiers can hit 140 kph and travel a full 80m on jumps.
Grugger joined Daniel Albrecht of Switzerland (2009) and American Scott Macartney (2008) as the latest high-profile casualty of the Streif downhill course.
Teams acknowledge that ski racing has become much safer over the years, with the introduction of marked courses, and better safety nets and crash pads along the piste.
The overall sentiment seems to be that skiers who are technically clean could benefit, although there are some doubts whether allrounders will be able to keep up with the specialists.