By Steve Keating
TORONTO, Oct 23 (Reuters) – If Lindsey Vonn is cleared to race the men’s World Cup downhill at Lake Louise it would give the sport a huge boost, but the American should reconsider loftier plans to tackle Kitzbuehel, the head of Alpine Canada said on Tuesday.
A four-time overall World Cup champion, Vonn set the ski racing world abuzz earlier this month when she petitioned the International Ski Federation (FIS) to let her race in the men’s season-opening downhill on Nov. 24 in the Canadian Rockies.
“It would be great for the sport,” Alpine Canada president Max Gartner told Reuters on Tuesday. “That is what the sport needs, stories that are bigger than the sport itself.”
But before Vonn can have her name added to the start list there are several technical issues that must be resolved.
Vonn has stated she will only take part in the men’s race if she is allowed to compete in the women’s downhill season-opener the following weekend on what is essentially the same course.
Under FIS rules, however, no racer is allowed to ski on a race course a week prior to their own competition.
In a compromise, Vonn has reportedly offered to forgo two training runs for the women’s race as a way of evening out the playing field if she can compete in both events.
The FIS Council is expected to make a decision at its next meeting on Nov. 3-4 in Switzerland.
“You can work around those things,” said Gartner. “There has got to be a bit of give and take.”
Vonn has had a long-running love affair with Lake Louise having recorded 11 wins and a staggering 17 podium finishes on the undulating layout tucked away in the wilderness of Banff National Park.
The 28-year-old speed queen claimed her first career World Cup win at the posh Canadian resort in 2004 and had nine of her 26 career downhill wins come on the Olympic course.
Given her familiarity with the track, officials and fellow racers say Vonn will face no added risks, but Lake Louise, like any other downhill, has claimed its share of victims.
Among them is Canada’s John Kucera, the 2009 world downhill champion, who suffered a devastating leg injury the following season that sidelined him for the better part of two seasons.
“Her picking Lake Louise wasn’t a fluke,” Kucera told Reuters. “She’s well aware that it is the course she has the best chance on.
“It’s longer and it’s prepared a little more challenging than the women’s course but all-in-all it has a lot of similarities.
“Lindsey is a good skier and it’s not like it’s way above her ability level but it’s definitely going to be a change.”
Racing at Lake Louise, rated as one of the most benign layouts on the men’s circuit is one thing, but challenging the ferocious Hahnenkamm is another.
Vonn told the Austrian Press Agency recently that she would like to race Kitzbuehel before she retires but some people have suggested that it is one item she might want to remove from her bucket list.
“I admire every athlete that pushes out of that start gate wanting to go as fast as they can because it’s scary,” said Gartner. “Once you push out there is no more stopping. There is no slowing down, you’re going.
“It’s expertise, guys who have skied it for many years know this beast and how to manage it.”
The treacherous Streif course is routinely the scene of some of ski racing’s most terrifying crashes striking respect and fear into even the most seasoned downhiller.
Canadian downhiller Brian Stemmle narrowly survived a near fatal crash that left him in the hospital for months when he lost control and flung into the safety netting.
“I loved how she said about Kitzbuehel that she will race that at the end of her career because it probably will be the end of her career,” smiled Stemmle. “I give her credit for laying it out there and wanting to do it and progress her sport.
“Kitzbuehel I think is a little over her head, it’s just different”