For Lindsey Vonn, it has to be all or nothing
Lindsey Vonn wants to ski against men in a World Cup race Thanksgiving weekend in Lake Louise, Canada, the slope where she has dominated for years. I think that's great. Vonn is the most successful skier in U.S. history. She has earned the right to race against anyone she wants. And seeing her race against Bode Miller would be very compelling.
There should be just one condition. This cannot be a one-off. If Vonn wants to race against the men, she must race against them the entire World Cup season.
Gender separation in competition is crucial to women's sports. It is the only way to assure athletic opportunities for all women, and it also helps build the brand; it builds the fan base. When someone chooses to compete against men (hello, Michelle Wie), she is basically telling fans, "Don't pay attention to those girls. Pay attention to me."
It also essentially tells fans that the women's side of the sport is not as interesting, as important or as high quality as the men's side. It doesn't help the popularity of women's athletics when its best athletes compete outside the sport.
Competing in a men's race would be great marketing for Vonn and great publicity for skiing overall that weekend, but where does it leave the women's side of the sport? Mostly ignored.
The season's only women's World Cup race in the United States is that same weekend in Aspen, Colo. If Vonn races at Lake Louise instead, what little coverage there would be at Aspen would be reduced to questions and speculation about what the women think of Vonn racing against men.
Olympic gold medalist Julia Mancuso -- you won the slalom and giant slalom in the only World Cup race in your country this year. So tell us, what do you think of Lindsey racing against the men?
This is one reason why U.S. ski racing -- which must sign off on the idea -- did not immediately embrace Vonn's idea. It isn't only about TV and ratings, it's also about maintaining the integrity and high quality of women's races.
I fully support a woman athlete competing against men, but not if she does so only when it is convenient. If a woman truly thinks she is good enough to compete with men -- and beat them -- then she must be willing to put her financial earnings on the line by competing over the course of an entire season. She can't have it both ways. She can't race against women for the money and race against the men for the publicity. It would come at the expense of the women in her sport.
If Vonn wants to test her ability against Bode, Ted Ligety or any other man, she can do so in a race that will not affect other skiers. But she shouldn't do so in a World Cup race that would take away from her teammates' competition unless she really believes she can win -- and is willing to put her season on the line to prove it.