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"[O]ne gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other"
November 4, 2012 12:21 PM   Subscribe

The International Ski Federation (FIS) has denied Lindsey Vonn's request that she be able to compete in a men's World Cup downhill race at Lake Louise, Alberta on November 24. The US Ski and Snowboard Associaton had petitioned the FIS in support of Vonn's request and the President of Alpine Canada has expressed his disagreement with the FIS decision. The New York Times explained that Vonn spends time training with men, often races on men's skis, and "has, at times, been faster than men in training." The BBC reports Vonn said, "I'd like the chance to compete against them and see where I stand."
posted by Area Man (47 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
What if she put a replica of a penis in the pocket of her ski pants while racing against the men? Would that help change the decision?
posted by discopolo at 12:26 PM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have a feeling this isn't about ballast.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 12:30 PM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm reminded of the old canard about the East German's womens swim team failing to qualify as women as a result of the hormones and steroids they were taking. Wonder if Vonn could try that in her favor.
posted by modernserf at 12:32 PM on November 4, 2012


This is clear case of the slippery slope fallacy
posted by srboisvert at 12:32 PM on November 4, 2012 [41 favorites]


Next thing you know, she's gonna want to vote or something...
posted by Thorzdad at 12:38 PM on November 4, 2012


Guys, if women can compete in men's categories, then Meryl will win ALL the Oscars and the telecast will get boring after a while.

(Already boring? Right, carry on.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:49 PM on November 4, 2012


I wonder how this would be viewed if it were a top male skier asking to compete in a women's downhill race instead? The solution to either question is to hold mixed competitions on a regular basis, in order for athletes of any gender to see where they stand.
posted by 1367 at 12:52 PM on November 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Man, now I'm jonesing. Lake Louise is one my favorite hills on the planet. Lindsey could totally give the guys a run; it'd be great to see her have a shot.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:53 PM on November 4, 2012


If the best women skiers win the right to race with men, then wouldn't that make the women's race little more than a lineup of "also-rans"? I mean, by only being in the women's race--nevermind how well you finish--you're a loser. Maybe I'm downsiding this, but unless lots of women skiers are good enough to be in the men's race, I can see that it wouldn't be the greatest win for them.
posted by Jehan at 12:59 PM on November 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


Gender discrepancies could be abstracted into height/weight classes, maybe? So we'd have a world champion Heavyweight downhill skier.
posted by modernserf at 1:04 PM on November 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


What, a sports governing body makes a misogynist ruling? Well, I never!

This reminds me of the comment justifying excluding women's ski jumping from the 2010 Olympics because of the risk of damage to their lady parts.

Speaking of the 2010 Olympics, Vonn's victory in the downhill was the performance of the games for me. I'm not even sure if any of the men could have bested her time had they run the same course. She ran those gates perfectly. To be any faster, you'd be in the air too often to stay on your line.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:05 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


For something like skiing I speculate that women actually have something of an edge, balance being as important as it is.

Don't we have a way to measure a person's center of gravity? Group players by how low it is.
posted by LogicalDash at 1:07 PM on November 4, 2012


I can understand Lindsey wanting to do this. She's very,very strong as a female skiier and women's skiing only gets like 5% of the coverage men's skiing gets.

Maybe they could arrange it sometime as an exhibition. That ruling also says she can apply to be a forerunner. If she could be the last forerunner to go (if the course was truly good to go, IOW), she could have at least one run for time (unofficial).
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:11 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Women have a lower center of gravity generally, true. But they also tend to be more knock-kneed because of wider hips (the reason their center of gravity is lower). So it's a tradeoff.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:13 PM on November 4, 2012


Well, they have to divide the field up somehow, and I suppose dividing innies from outies is as good a basis as any. But if you're running the same course as the men, couldn't you can see exactly where you stack up no matter when you run it? And if the men's course and the women's course is different... why?
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 1:18 PM on November 4, 2012


Sport is increasingly adopting the values of entertainment, so the decisive question now tends to be, not whether the competition is fair, but whether the audience would like it. I think it would like to see a valiant, solitary female competing against the men (in fact it would more or less insist that she should win). The 'debate' is a bonus, helpfully increasing general interest and media attention.

Once a woman is in the men's event, the women's event may indeed become relatively boring to the general audience, with all that that implies.
posted by Segundus at 1:31 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is nothing new; Nancy Lieberman tried out for the NBA.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:34 PM on November 4, 2012


For something like skiing I speculate that women actually have something of an edge

I absolutely believe that Vonn should be allowed to attempt to race against men. But you're really underestimating how much sheer muscle strength matters even in sports like skiing.

FIS is dumb. There should be, as in most (all?) major professional sports, two categories; an open category where anyone can compete regardless of gender and a women's category.
posted by Justinian at 1:50 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I'd like the chance to compete against them and see where I stand."

She'll be racing the same course less than a week later.

If she wanted to compare, she'd take her time, and compare it to the mens times and she'd have that answer.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:52 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gender discrepancies could be abstracted into height/weight classes, maybe?

Wouldn't work. Men and women have different body compositions at the same height and weight.
posted by Justinian at 1:54 PM on November 4, 2012


She'll be racing the same course less than a week later.

If she wanted to compare, she'd take her time, and compare it to the mens times and she'd have that answer.


Not really the same thing, though. Different day, different conditions. And some athletes really thrive on fighting up in class.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:55 PM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


“I think we girls don’t have a chance against the guys — we are 20 to 30 kilos less than them,” said the Austrian veteran Elisabeth Görgl.

For anyone who doesn't know: height and weight are really important at the top levels of ski racing, the bigger, heavier skiers have a huge advantage. The men's racing is so competitive that a lot of guys drop out because they are just not big enough, despite being awesome skiers..

Vonn is like 5'10" , 165 or more, not particularly large for a female athlete but she's huge by women's ski racing standards. Elisabeth Gorgl is about 5'4" then same as Manusco and Fischbacker, Tina Maze and Picabo Street are maybe 5'7". And Vonn's not a tiny dainty 5'10" either, she's gotta have 30 or 40 pounds on most of her rivals. That's why it would be really interesting to see her race the men. Hopefully some resort or tour will set this up as a one off event.

I ski a lot and it's funny, most of the downhill racers I know are tiny and the nordic racers are Amazons. You'd think it would be the other way around.

She'll be racing the same course less than a week later.

The conditions will be totally different and the times won't be comparable at all a week later.
posted by fshgrl at 2:05 PM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I didn't realize Sepp Blatter was on the FIS board as well. Idiots. Let her ski against who she wants.
posted by arcticseal at 2:32 PM on November 4, 2012


Apparently going on a downhill race is an uphill struggle.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:42 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


my reflexive reaction was to take this as just another example of sexism in sport but...

doesn't allowing Vonn to participate in the men's category somehow endorse the notion that women's sport is a lesser, handicapped version of the real "male" sport?
posted by cacofonie at 2:48 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nordic is really strength-intensive, particularly in the back, arms and shoulders. Rowers and kayakers tend to do well in it---it's a common cross-train, in fact. All of the women I've known who do well at Nordic, especially ski skate, are big and strong.

Men, on the other hand, can be too big, even for ski skate. Shoulders that are too broad take too much energy to haul around. Lanky is the word that comes to mind.
posted by bonehead at 2:50 PM on November 4, 2012


I ski a lot and it's funny, most of the downhill racers I know are tiny and the nordic racers are Amazons.

The smaller women like Therese Johaug and Liz Stephen seem to do well in the events that involve skiing uphill, like the finale of the Tour de Ski (they ski up an alpine course). I think we'll see more of these events in the future as they are exciting. If so, maybe we'll see more of the smaller framed women nordic skiers.
posted by Area Man at 2:54 PM on November 4, 2012


I'm keeping my fingers crossed for intergender boxing and judo in Rio 2016.
posted by Tanizaki at 3:12 PM on November 4, 2012


>> If the best women skiers win the right to race with men, then wouldn't that make the women's race little more than a lineup of "also-rans"? I mean, by only being in the women's race--nevermind how well you finish--you're a loser. Maybe I'm downsiding this, but unless lots of women skiers are good enough to be in the men's race, I can see that it wouldn't be the greatest win for them.

I don't know much about the skiing audience (or crossing the gender divide in this case) but it was my impression that when Oscar Pistorious competed in the 2012 Olympics it only served to raise the profile of the Paralympics (in which he was also competing just a few weeks later). I suspect alongside gravitating to the league-of-highest-calibre (or whatever), spectators also really like superstars with Rocky-stories behind them.
posted by K.P. at 3:23 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The smaller women like Therese Johaug and Liz Stephen seem to do well in the events that involve skiing uphill, like the finale of the Tour de Ski (they ski up an alpine course).

That's a good point, the people I know who excel at the ultra (50-100+ mile) races are much lighter too.

On a side note racing UP an alpine course on nordic gear sounds like the worst thing in the world and those people are crazy. At least randonee skiers get to come back down.
posted by fshgrl at 3:27 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


On a side note racing UP an alpine course on nordic gear sounds like the worst thing in the world and those people are crazy.

Nah, just Norwegian.
posted by chavenet at 3:40 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


doesn't allowing Vonn to participate in the men's category somehow endorse the notion that women's sport is a lesser, handicapped version of the real "male" sport?

Doesn't *not* allowing her to participate do exactly the same thing?

She's apparently bigger than most female skiers and can compete at the height/weight class of male skiers. What's the harm in letting her try?
posted by mediareport at 4:09 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Worth noting, too, that Vonn herself doesn't have a problem with saying that men's racing is a step up:

They’re at the next level, and I want to try to be more like them
posted by mediareport at 4:20 PM on November 4, 2012


I'm struggling with what I want to say here, so please bear with me.

The only thing I've competed in as an adult is massively male-dominated. I (a woman) roadraced motorcycles at the club level with WERA for four years. WERA has no women's class; I raced against men and was the only woman racing in my classes in my region. It was rare that I would take the grid and see another woman on it (rare but possible; WERA runs several smaller races on the track at the same time, which makes for some lively passing.)

Women in roadracing have no particular handicap. Roadracing is about smarts, strategy, stamina and equipment (put plainly: money.) Physical strength is not particularly helpful but being physically small and light is helpful because it improves your power-to-weight ratio and your aerodynamic profile. Women are underrepresented for sociological reasons, not for logistical or competitive reasons.

If there were a women's class, it would de facto have been a pink ghetto.

I think Ms. Vonn should have the right to compete against anyone who can give her a race. However, I don't see how to do this without marginalizing the majority of female ski racers who would not be competitive against men.
posted by workerant at 4:22 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know, it sounds like most commenters here haven't read the articles. It's not just 'should we let her in to a guy's race'? There are a whole load of regulations, like that the guys have all qualified by racing the specific races that count towards qualification, and she hasn't. They would have to randomly select a 'qualification spot' for her: she says that she thinks she should go about in the middle of the field, which puts one more skier ahead of every other guy, who could be legitimately angry about that (more skiers ahead of you = worse conditions for you). She says she doesn't want to skip Women's races, including the Women's competition at the same place the next week, but other women legitimately think that racing the same course the week before would give her an advantage at that race which she clearly doesn't need.

I think if she wants to compete against men, it is not even remotely reasonably to pick 'automatic qualification to the Men's World Cup' as the way she gets to do it. It's not like the FIS just laughed and said 'run along girlie', and it's not like this race is the only men's competition held all year.
posted by jacalata at 4:27 PM on November 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


I agree with that; if she wants to race against men, she needs to run the same qualifying races at the same time as men. Which I suspect she would decline to do because it would mean missing women's races where she has a hugely better chance to place in.
posted by Justinian at 4:33 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The qualifying races would also be men's races sanctioned by the FIS, which has said one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other. So, I don't see how she could qualify for this or any other men's world cup race.
posted by Area Man at 4:44 PM on November 4, 2012


It's not just 'should we let her in to a guy's race'? There are a whole load of regulations, like that the guys have all qualified by racing the specific races that count towards qualification, and she hasn't.

But the decision didn't say anything even close to "We're open to the idea but the way Vonn suggested we qualify her didn't seem fair." It said "one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other and exceptions will not be made to the FIS Rules." That's it. If they wanted to say the real problem was the qualifying and the unfairness of Vonn's attempt to jump ahead of qualified men while also racing women, or demand that in exchange for racing with the men Vonn give up the women's race, they could have said that. But they didn't.

Vonn says she doesn't want any points from the race, just wants to do it once, not the whole tour, and I bet she'd be open to starting lower than 31st if they offered it. The FIS rejected all of that and just said "No mixing of genders, no exceptions." That's what reading the articles makes clear, I think.
posted by mediareport at 5:32 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


and it's not like this race is the only men's competition held all year.

The BBC article quotes the Alpine Canada president saying "Lake Louise is the perfect venue to have that comparison because Lindsey has as much experience on the mountain as many of the men have had."

That explains why this race, now.
posted by mediareport at 5:36 PM on November 4, 2012


This reminds me of the comment justifying excluding women's ski jumping from the 2010 Olympics because of the risk of damage to their lady parts.

There will be women's ski jumping in 2014, at least.
posted by homunculus at 6:54 PM on November 4, 2012


The end result of this is every woman's race being won by a man who exercised his right to enter whatever race he pleased.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:09 PM on November 4, 2012


Ultimate does it right--it's gender categories are Women's and Open.
posted by domnit at 7:25 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hayley Wickenheiser is wondering what the fuss is about.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 8:27 PM on November 4, 2012


Given any two stratified groups where one statistically competes at a "lower" level, there will always be high-achievers in the "lower" group who can bridge the gap, and bully for them. But that doesn't mean the gap should be bridged. To a certain extent, it's just showboating ("see, I can race with the men"—her own stated rationale appears to confirm this), and it marginalizes the rest of the women who can't possibly make that categorical leap. Same thing if you let a middleweight fight with heavyweights. We get it—you can compete, and maybe you can even win. But what's really the point? Isn't it just a novelty performance? Competition without contextual category is sort of meaningless. Do we really need to reanimate Andy Kaufman and let him wrestle women again to drive this home?
posted by azaner at 11:26 AM on November 6, 2012


The end result of this is every woman's race being won by a man who exercised his right to enter whatever race he pleased.

The end result of one woman asking to compete, once, in a race above her weight class (using weight as a stand-in for the competitive levels Vonn discusses) is a flood of men being allowed to compete in and winning races below their weight class?

How does that work again?
posted by mediareport at 6:37 AM on November 9, 2012


The end result of one woman asking to compete, once, in a race above her weight class (using weight as a stand-in for the competitive levels Vonn discusses) is a flood of men being allowed to compete in and winning races below their weight class?

How does that work again?


Why do you suddenly add in weight class?

It works pretty logically. If a woman can compete in the men's race, there is no reason why a man should be barred from the women's race.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:57 PM on November 10, 2012


Annika Sorenstam played in a PGA event, and years later there is no flood of men trying to play LPGA events. I don't think the "logic" of the argument against Vonn's request is accounting for the stigma that would attach to men who focused on skiing in women's events or the desire top-level athletes have to compete against the fastest and best.
posted by Area Man at 10:16 AM on November 11, 2012


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