Amy Donaldson: Lindsey Vonn should be satisfied with success against other women

Published: Monday, Dec. 17 2012 6:47 a.m. MST

Sarah Schleper, second from left, holds her son Lasse as she poses with her teammates Julia Mancuso, left, and Lindsey Vonn, in the finish area of an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom, in Lienz, Austria, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011. American skier Sarah Schleper, who competed in four Winter Olympics, says Thursday's slalom will be the last World Cup race of her career. The 32-year-old Schleper will retire after 15 years and 186 races since making her World Cup debut in her native Vail, Colorado, in 1995.

Giovanni Auletta, Associated Press

Lindsey Vonn's dedication and skill have made her so successful, even dominant, that the 28-year-old alpine skier is looking for greater challenges.

Her desire to push herself is what's made her one of the greatest alpine skiers ever.

She is a World Cup champion and an Olympic champion. In fact, she's just five wins away from tying the record of the sport's winningest female skier.

And that's become something of an issue for the Minnesota native.

She'd like to discuss her accomplishments without the gender delineation attached to it. The woman with 57 career victories wants to prove she can not only win on any slope, in any alpine event, but against any skier — man or woman.

Vonn asked the FIS to let her compete against the world's best male alpine skiers last month in Lake Louise, but they said no. Four days ago, she told CNN that she was not going to give up her fight and was even considering legal action in attempting to gain access to the men's races.

She believes allowing her to compete in men's races would elevate the profile of the sport in the U.S. Those who support her effort have said it would illustrate just how great she really is.

But isn't her greatness already obvious? Couldn't she elevate her sport in a way that didn't marginalize the women's events? When we say seeing her successfully compete against men would prove her greatness, aren't we also inadvertently saying that the women's races are not as athletic, not as valuable, not as impressive as the men's races?

Are her titles less valuable because she raced against women to win them?

I have great admiration for the women athletes who've pioneered opportunities for other women. The U.S. women's ski jumping team is the most recent of examples of female athletes who were excluded from athletic competition simply because of their gender.

They fought and won the right to have their own events on the World Cup circuit and, for the first time, in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. The late freestyle skier Sarah Burke spent her life begging organizers to create competitions for women so she didn't have to compete against men. She simply wanted women to have what the men had — the opportunity to do what they loved for a living. She never realized her dream of being an Olympian, but because of her efforts — on and off the snow — other women will compete in her sport in Sochi, Russia.

It is of these women, and others who fought simply for the opportunity to compete, that I think of when I hear requests like Vonn's. It is their sacrifices that I believe are marginalized when women argue that they need a greater challenge than competing against their own gender.

Vonn told reporters in Canada that her success should grant her entry into the men's races.

"It's not like I'm getting 20th every day and saying I want to race the men," she said. "I try to let my skiing speak for itself. … I don't know exactly where I'd stack up, but that's kind of the whole point, to see where I stand and see how much farther I can push my skiing because the men, their skiing is the best in the world hands down. That's where I want to get my skiing to be."

How does it elevate the sport for other women when we have our best female athletes saying they need a greater challenge than what other women can ever offer?

Vonn told the New York Times that she'd like to have "one chance" to race against the men. She pointed at Swedish golfer Annika Sorenstam as an example who "paved the way for women."

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