Lindsey Vonn won't be in the start gate at Lake Louise for the World Cup men's downhill later this month, and many within the ski-racing world viewed the International Ski Federation's (FIS) denial of her request to race with the boys as a disappointment.
But perhaps the most disappointing thing about FIS's decision came in the reasoning behind it.
Most speculated that FIS would deny the American star's request on the grounds that the women will race at Lake Louise the following weekend, giving Vonn a training advantage over her female counterparts a week later.
That issue could have been easily skirted — if it meant enough to Vonn, she could have withdrawn from the women's downhill instead of vying for a 10th title in the discipline at Lake Louise. Or, she could have been made to forfeit her training runs for the women's race, as some experts suggested.
Instead, FIS produced a ruling on Saturday (Nov. 3) that not only dismissed the idea altogether, but effectively closed the door on any future opportunities for a woman to ski in a men's race.
In its decision, FIS ruled that "one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other and exceptions will not be made to the FIS rules."
Sorry, Lindsey, you're out of luck. FIS did welcome her to ski as a forerunner, meaning she could still record a time on the course to be compared with the men's results. But that's hardly the same as putting her in the race field, and would still require her to drop out of the women's event.
Alpine analyst and former national team skier Brian Stemmle probably summed the decision up best when he quipped Saturday on his Twitter account that "once again FIS shows that their heads … are still buried in sauerkraut."
In an interview with the Associated Press, FIS secretary general Sarah Lewis said it was "very clear" why FIS ruled as it did.
"It's called the men's World Cup and the ladies' World Cup. The men race the men's World Cup and the ladies race the ladies' World Cup. FIS and World Cup points are not transferrable from one circuit to another," said Lewis.
But this was about so much more than World Cup points. It was about providing tremendous exposure to a sport that rarely gets the attention it deserves from North American media outside of Olympic years. It was an opportunity to showcase the tremendous talent these athletes put on display each winter while introducing ski racing to a new group of fans.
Vonn is the perfect person to centre that attention around. She loves the spotlight and is one of few skiers who capture interest outside the alpine community.
Most importantly, she's earned the opportunity. She's won four World Cup overall titles, earned race victories in every discipline — 53 wins altogether — and a collection of Olympic and world championship medals. You can already make the argument Vonn is the best there's ever been.
It wouldn't have mattered what you think of her, or if you regularly pay attention to the World Cup circuit — this would have been an event any sports fan would have interest in.
So it's Vonn who will miss the chance to compete, but it's FIS that has missed an opportunity to market the sport early in a world championship year. Vonn competing would have put headlines in sports sections across the world; her absence means skiing will remain relegated to the back pages and briefs during the season's first speed races.
Whistler Mountain Ski Club alum Manuel Osborne-Paradis made a counter-argument that stuck with me last week. It wasn't a flat-out rejection of Vonn's wish, but a call to see what she can do on the tougher World Cup downhill courses in Europe, saying there was "nothing special" about Lake Louise.
"To me, downhill is not all 100 per cent about skiing. It's about conquering demons; it's about pushing the envelope over obstacles that you know you necessarily wouldn't want to ski. And Lake Louise doesn't hold that," Osborne-Paradis told the CBC. "I'd like to see her do a real men's course and not just our warm-up course for the start of the season."
Point taken. Lake Louise wouldn't be the best place to get a true measure of the gap between Vonn and the men. Vonn herself has said she'd like to take on the famously difficult Streif course at Kitzbuhel, Austria, after retirement.
But Vonn is in her prime now, so the best chance skiing will ever get to have its own 'Battle of the Sexes' may have passed. It's too bad FIS would rather draw a line in the sandbox between boys and girls than use it as a soapbox to promote the sport.