Lindsey Vonn

Star female athletes who competed against men weigh in on Lindsey Vonn

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Lindsey Vonn turned 29 years old Friday, and what a life-changing 365 days it’s been for the Olympic champion downhill skier.

A year ago, Vonn was in the news for her dominance on the slopes. She requested the chance to compete against men on the Alpine skiing World Cup, a bid that was rejected by the International Ski Federation (FIS), citing rules that one gender is not allowed to compete against another in FIS races.

That storyline subsided as others elevated this year.

Vonn blew out her right knee at the World Championships in February (video here), announced a relationship with Tiger Woods, attended every major golf tournament, and set a return to competitive skiing (against women only) for as early as Oct. 26.

If Vonn returns to form and racks up win after win, talk could very well resurface of racing men. She is three World Cup wins away from Annemarie Moser-Proell‘s female record (62). The men’s mark held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark (86) is ambitious but not unattainable.

Some of the greatest athletes of all time gathered in New York this week for the Women’s Sports Foundation awards. Among them were women who competed against men — golfer Annika Sorenstam, tennis player Billie Jean King and hockey player Angela Ruggiero.

The Swede Sorenstam played at the PGA Tour event at Colonial in 2003, becoming the first woman to play on the PGA Tour since Olympic track and field champion Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1945.

“I think it’s a terrific goal,” Sorenstam said of Vonn facing men. “I was in a time in my career when I needed something to push me a little extra. I look back at my career, and it was one of the highlights. … It really helps you elevate your own game.”

King swept Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” in 1973. She believes Vonn racing against men could boost women’s sports as a whole.

“When (Sorenstam) played on the PGA, I watched that weekend,” King said. “She was in every single frame for two days. She never gets that. We never get that kind of attention in women’s sports.

“Because 95 percent of the media is controlled by men, if we get into their arena, then we finally get some attention. Otherwise, on our own, we don’t get the attention. But if she would go up against the men, I guarantee you she would get 20, 30, 40 times the attention. Just with the attention, with all the branding that’s going on today, you have to ask yourself a lot of different questions. When I played Riggs, I didn’t have to deal with all that.”

In 2005, Ruggiero became the first woman to play men’s professional hockey at a position other than goalie in North America. She suited up for the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League.

Ruggiero, now an International Olympic Committee member, said she talked to Vonn about facing men when the skier considered it last year.

“It would do so much for the sport,” Ruggiero said. “I know when I played men’s hockey in the Central League, the media exposure you get alone, but it’s also a new challenge for her. You have to respect her as an athlete. She’s been at the top of her game for so long, and she’s looking for new ways to evolve.”

Vonn trains in Austria with eye on World Cup return

How to watch U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 02: Ashley Wagner of the United States warms up before the Ladies Free Skate program on Day 6 of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 at TD Garden on April 2, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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U.S. Figure Skating Championships coverage continues Saturday, live on NBC and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app, starting at 3 p.m. ET.

The pairs free skate, free dance and women’s free skate are scheduled in Kansas City.

The NBC Sports All-Access page will provide live scoring and more all week.

Pairs free skate, free dance
3-6 p.m. ET
STREAM LINK | PAIRS SKATE ORDER | DANCE SKATE ORDER

Women’s free skate
8-11 p.m. ET
STREAM LINKSKATE ORDER

In pairs, the first-year team of Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc leads Skate America silver medalists Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier by 3.96 points going into the free skate.

In dance, world silver medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani hold a 2.46-point lead over world bronze medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates after breaking the U.S. Championships short dance record.

Karen Chen, 17, is the surprise women’s leader after the short program. Three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner is third, and defending champion Gracie Gold is fifth. Wagner and Gold might not be able to afford mistakes in the free skate if they want to make the world championships team.

The U.S. will send two pairs, three dance couples and three women to worlds in Helsinki in two months. The team selections made this weekend will be based largely — but not wholly — off U.S. Championships results.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss says Russia shouldn’t be in PyeongChang

Lindsey Vonn wins, cries in second race back from broken bones

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Lindsey Vonn was in tears. It’s easy to see why.

In her second race back after the most painful injury of her career, Vonn notched her 77th career World Cup victory, taking a downhill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Saturday morning.

Vonn screamed repeatedly after crossing the finish line and seeing she was .15 ahead of Swiss Lara Gut. She cried and then waited as skier after skier tried to beat her time. No one did. Full results are here.

Vonn called it the most emotional victory of those 77, according to the Austria Press Agency.

“I feel like, sometimes, I come back so quickly, everyone forgets how much time and energy and blood, sweat and tears it takes to come back without any training and jump in there,” Vonn said, adding to the BBC, “I just put it all on the line. I tried to risk more. I tried to really believe in myself. I did more than I expected.”

This month marked Vonn’s full return from two injuries — suffering three large fractures in her left knee in a Feb. 27 race crash and breaking her right upper arm in a Nov. 10 training crash. Vonn has said the latter was the most painful injury of her career, causing nerve damage that limited mobility of her right hand.

Vonn’s first race back was last Sunday — after less than two weeks of ski training — and she finished 13th in a downhill in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria. Her lack of training showed. A lack of aggressiveness and speed in turns.

“I honestly wasn’t sure after Zauchensee how long it would take me [to win],” she said. “I definitely struggled finding that confidence, but I did it today. I tried to have as much courage as I could and push myself to the limit. I think I still can ski a lot better, but I think this is more in the direction of what I used to do. So I’m getting back.”

Vonn has two primary goals left in her decorated career — to ski for gold in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic downhill and to break the World Cup wins record of 86 held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

Vonn can go for win No. 78 in a super-G in Garmisch on Sunday, streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app at 6 a.m. ET.

If Vonn stays healthy and continues to win at her normal pace, two big “ifs,” she will break Stenmark’s record next season.

“I still don’t have much training, so, super-G, I really don’t know what to expect,” Vonn said.

MORE: Vonn sets date on proposal to enter men’s race