Lindsey Vonn Deserves to Race Men

Lindsey Vonn, the most decorated professional female skier in history, faces the toughest challenge in her legendary 15-year career this fall. In addition to preparing for the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Vonn recently issued her third official proposal to the International Ski Federation, known as the FIS, to race against men.

While Vonn’s 2012 and 2017 bids were denied, the ski federation is meeting her last push with significantly less resistance.

She said in an interview with Refinery29 that she first seized on the idea to race against men during her 2011 training.

“All my training times were right there with the best male skier in the World Cup,” she said. “And I thought, ‘If I’m training with them, and I’m right there with them, why can’t I race with them?’”

According to Patrick Riml, alpine director of the U.S. ski team, Vonn clearly has more support for her proposal than she did before. The official decision on Vonn’s competitive future — and whether it will include a race or races against men — will not be delivered until May. But it seems clear that it is time for the FIS to do what is right and give Vonn, who is already 32 years old, a chance to fulfill her quest.

For years, Vonn has been the top women’s skier in the United States. She is the only American woman with four World Cup overall titles, and she is also an eight-time world downhill champion and five-time super G champion. She has won 77 World Cup races in her career, just nine short of the record of 86, held by Swedish men’s racer Ingermar Stenmark.

In addition to her dominance on the slopes, Vonn has also displayed immense courage and determination in recovering from major injuries over the years — most recently a severely fractured humerus bone in the 2016–2017 World Cup. Despite the dangers of her sport, Vonn has approached it unfazed at every turn.

While the FIS has been unwilling to let Vonn race against men, they can not prevent her from training with them. She regularly works out with the U.S. men’s national team and is said to race as fast as, if not faster than, many of them. Additionally, Vonn has the support of many teammates and coaches as she strides forward with her proposal. She stated in the same interview with Refinery29 that most of Team USA is behind her, so at this point convincing the FIS to get on board may be the only real obstacle still in her way.

While the recent postponement, rather than outright rejection, of Vonn’s proposal by the FIS demonstrates that the organization is considering her request more seriously than before, her fight against the FIS is still an uphill one. The official response by the FIS to Vonn’s proposal in 2012 was a stark one, “one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other.” Her chances remained bleak for five years, and even now remain unlikely.

Vonn is not fighting on behalf of all women skiers or to change the nature of the sport at all. Instead, she remains steadfast that her capabilities as a skier are so transcendent and her achievements over the years so impressive that she has earned the right to compete with whomever poses the greatest challenge. How many other women would then follow her lead remains to be seen, but Vonn deserves the chance to break the barrier.

Never in history has a woman competed in men’s Alpine World Cup race or any other official men’s FIS competition. Vonn stated in an interview with People Magazine that she now is primarily focused on her performance at the upcoming Winter Olympics. After that, however, will come the 2018–2019 ski season, which could be her last one. At the tail end of her career, Vonn deserves to ski on the same slopes as men and open new doors for women athletes before she closes hers.