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How would Lindsey Vonn fare against men? (Pretty well, I calculate)

November 8, 2012 – 1:42 PM

By Laura Pappano

When the International Ski Federation turned down Lindsey Vonn’s request to compete in the men’s downhill World Cup the explanation was wearily familiar – there are races for guys and races for women and they’re separate.

Actually, FIS secretary general Sarah Lewis didn’t put it quite like that, rather invoking the term “ladies” as in, “the men race the men’s World Cup and the ladies race the ladies’ World Cup.”

Such gender-segregation doesn’t move us forward; it reinforces old stereotypes that females can’t – and shouldn’t (there is a moral tone to this) – compete with males. Yet athletes at the very top of their game – and Vonn is dominant — want to test themselves against the best (remember Annika Sorenstam at the Colonial in 2003?).

As I figure, Vonn could well finish in the top 20. Here’s my (very rough) calculation:

If we consider Vonn’s performance – take her win a Schladming in Austria last March in the downhill. She finished in 1:46:56. The men’s winner, Aksel Lund Svindal, won in 1:46:81.

Of course, the men’s and women’s courses are different. As the Alpine Official’s Manual for the US Ski and Snowboard Association observes, “Course setting is acknowledged as an art — not a science – and cannot be easily taught or explained.”

The FIS site doesn’t detail differences between the men’s and women’s courses for that event, but we can take another venue, Lake Louise, for which there is course information and where Vonn hopes to compete in the men’s race. The women’s race is shorter than the men’s (3119 meters to 3225 meters). The difference is 106 meters, making the women’s race three percent shorter.

For fun, let’s add three percent to Vonn’s winning time, which puts it in the 1:49-range. That would have her finishing between 15 and 20 in the men’s field in Schladming.

This is rough, I know, and doesn’t consider vertical drop differences and snow conditions, among other factors. But the point is this: Vonn’s times are not WAY out of line and are probably competitive with top men.

Doesn’t she deserve the chance to find out for real?

  1. 2 Responses to “How would Lindsey Vonn fare against men? (Pretty well, I calculate)”

  2. The 2010 Olympic course was NOT at Lake Louise

    By yo yo mama on Nov 8, 2012

  3. I hope that Lindsey Vonn does get to compete against men sometime soon.She does deserve the chance to find out how she would fare in tougher competition. I don’t think that the strict separation of the sexes is necessary in professional sport. I also don’t think that many professional women athletes would want to compete against men. But when someone does, they should have the chance.

    I do wonder, though, why advocates for women’s sports are so excited by cross-gender competition. I think the results usually only confirm the large gap between men’s and women’s athletic ability at the professional level. Is that good for women’s professional sports?

    Professional women athletes can certainly defeat most of the non-professional men walking the earth. But, except for open-water ocean swimming, and perhaps rifle and equestrian competition, women have very little chance of winning against elite male professionals.

    You reminded us about Annika Sorenstam. She did exhibit great skill as well as courage and grace under pressure. But it must be said that she didn’t do very well. She was the best woman golfer perhaps of all time, and yet she was in 96th place when she was eliminated. She seemed embarrassed about her performance and said the she was “in over my head.”

    Perhaps it’s the Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs match that leads women’ s sport advocates to encourage this kind of match-up . But that was more an intergenerational match than an inter-gender one. He was 55, retired for 20 years, and she was 29 and a current women’s champion. He was the number one ranked men’s player two years before Billie Jean King was born. That match tells us little about how professional women would fare against their male peers.

    Frequent coed competition can’t make the major physiologic differences between men and women go away.

    Look at the track and field world records at the Track and Field News web site.


    Compare record times between the best women in the world, and the best high school boys in the world. Except for the marathon, high school boys would beat world record holding women in every event. Once testosterone transforms male bodies, elite women won’t be able to compete successfully against elite men.

    By Bill on Nov 18, 2012

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