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Champion skier Lindsey Vonn vows to fight on in bid to race the men

By Chris Murphy, CNN
December 18, 2012 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Skiing sensation Lindsey Vonn is considering legal action in her bid to race men
  • The 28-year-old American is the second most successful female skier of all time
  • Skiing's governing body rejected her request to take on the men at Lake Louise
  • Vonn has four Alpine Skiing World Cup titles to her name and an Olympic gold medal

(CNN) -- She's laid down the law in female skiing for the past five years, now Lindsey Vonn is pondering legal action in her quest to test herself against the men.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) blocked her bid to challenge the sport's top male stars at a recent meeting in Canada, but as Vonn has proved throughout her glittering career to date she's no quitter.

Speaking exclusively to CNN ahead of an Alpine World Cup event in Val d'Isere, France, the finest female skier of her generation insisted this fight wasn't over.

Vonn said: "I was definitely disappointed with their decision. After discussing with them my request they seemed pretty positive and optimistic that we could find a solution and then I got their answer and they were completely against it.

"I don't want to make a big stink out of it but I feel like their response that I can't race with the men simply because I'm a woman was definitely gender-biased so I'm going to do what I can and hopefully make something work.

Lindsey Vonn is a marketeer's dream, with her skiing prowess and profile taking the sport to new corners of North America.
Lindsey Vonn is a marketeer's dream, with her skiing prowess and profile taking the sport to new corners of North America.
Poster girl
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Vonn and on: Lindsey\'s quest Vonn and on: Lindsey's quest

"So right now I'm looking into options -- my father is an attorney so I'm just seeing if there's any options, legally, that I can take."

It is a brave person who pits their wits against Vonn.

Lindsey Vonn factfile
2000: Makes World Cup debut aged 16 in Utah

2002: Makes Winter Olympics in Utah aged 17

2004: Takes first World Cup race win at Lake Louise

2008: Wins first World Cup title, only second U.S. woman to do so

2009: Wins World Championships in Val-d'Isère, France

2010: Takes downhill gold at Winter Olympics

2011: Loses World Cup overall title to friend Maria Riesch by three points

2012: Regains World Cup overall title

The 28-year-old already has a cabinet stuffed full of silverware, including Olympic gold at Vancouver in 2010, and is officially the second most successful female skier of all time.

Vonn is renowned in Europe's skiing heartlands and a bona fide star in North America but she claims a battle with the male fraternity would elevate the sport to new heights in her homeland.

She responded to the FIS ruling in typical fashion by sweeping all three downhill events at Lake Louise in Canada, despite crashing during one, and all that on the back of recovering from a stomach illness which left her hospitalized in November.

Vonn was also on the podium at the most recent meeting in St. Moritz and is third in the overall standings as she strives for a fifth career Alpine World Cup title.

But as she continues her preparation for this weekend's meet at Val d'Isere, her other goal has clearly not been forgotten.

"I don't see Lindsey giving up anytime soon, that's for sure, she'll try another avenue," said 1992 Olympic champion Kerrin Lee-Gartner, who thinks Vonn would have finished around 20th had her wish to race the men at Lake Louise been granted.

"She's doing this for her but with that she also appreciates what it'll do for skiing in North America and the United States. People know who she is but they don't really understand the depth of her greatness."

U.S. women's head coach Alex Hoedlmoser agrees with Lee-Gartner. The Austrian, himself a former national giant slalom champion, says Vonn's commitment sets her apart from her competitors.

"It's obvious that she has put all of her energy into the sport in the last five years," Hoedlmoser explained to CNN. "That makes her special. She's living for her sport. She's prepared like nobody else going into races. That makes a difference."

After her new-season successes, the Minnesota native now has a career total of 57 victories, pushing her ahead of Switzerland's Vreni Schnieder and into second on the all-time win list.

People in North America and the United States know who she (Vonn) is but they don't really understand the depth of her greatness
Kerrin Lee-Gartner, former Olympic skiing champion

Only legendary Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proll remains ahead of Vonn, on 62 career victories, a tally that, barring injury, surely she will surpass.

"Moser-Proll was an unbelievable champion and won a lot of races at that time," added Hoedlmoser. "But there wasn't the same competition then.

"The sport is getting more complex, it is harder to break those records. I think she [Vonn] is the greatest so far and it is a matter of time before she breaks those records."

Vonn, a four-time Alpine World Cup champion, lobbied the FIS to race the men at Lake Louise as it is one of the few meets in the skiing calendar where males and females compete on the same slopes.

But a diktat from the sport's governing body ruled "one gender is not entitled to participate in the races of the other."

"It's not like I'm getting 20th every day and saying I want to race the men," Vonn told reporters in Canada. "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, they're skiing is the best in the world hands down. That's where I want to get my skiing to be."

I think she (Vonn) is the greatest so far and it is a matter of time before she breaks those records
Alex Hoedlmoser, U.S. women's head coach

A perfect illustration of Vonn's supremacy came at the venue that starts the weekend as Lake Louise, and ends it as Lake Lindsey.

"She was near-perfect the first day," Lee-Gartner explained. "On the second day she made a major mistake and it was almost disastrous, she had her tails of her skis in the net, she was almost sideways and she still won by half a second.

"It's difficult for her to maintain the elite level of focus throughout the season. For Lindsey she is very goal orientated, she feeds off any doubt whatsoever. She says it fuels her fire and makes her go."

Vonn is not alone in her quest, and she points to female golfer Anneka Sorenstam as an inspiration in her battle.

The Swede, who won 72 times on the LPGA Tour and triumphed in ten major championships, took on the men at a PGA Tour event back in 2003.

Prior to the tournament, three-time major winner Vijay Singh said Sorenstam "didn't belong" at the tournament. She eventually shot four-over-par and missed the cut, but tied for first in driving accuracy during her first round.

Vonn had previously told the New York Times: "I'd like to have one chance in my life to race against them. Annika Sorenstam did it in golf and paved the way for women. I'm not asking for World Cup points. I just want the chance to compete."

Lee-Gartner says there are plenty of male competitors on the tour who support Vonn's desire but also some who joke she should be allowed to see how she gets on against them on the notoriously treacherous Kitzbuhel track in Austria.

But, the FIS aside, there is almost total uniformity within the sport that skiing would benefit from the huge media interest any showdown would attract.

"The more I reflect on who she is, what she's done and how great it would be for this sport, in my opinion it is a marketing opportunity that FIS should be taking," Lee-Gartner added.

"I realise in Austria, Switzerland, alpine skiing is one of the premier sports they watch, they don't necessarily have an issue getting people interested in the sport.

Bighorn is an apt title for this palatial chalet on the Rainbow Range of mountains in British Columbia. It sleeps 16 and comes with its own helipad. Also included are a Teppanyaki grill, an outdoor fireplace and a hot tub with a sparkling vista. Bighorn is an apt title for this palatial chalet on the Rainbow Range of mountains in British Columbia. It sleeps 16 and comes with its own helipad. Also included are a Teppanyaki grill, an outdoor fireplace and a hot tub with a sparkling vista.
Bighorn, Revelstoke, Canada
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"Anytime there's an athlete's presence and profile has surpassed the sport in that nation, which hers has in North America, I think we'd be crazy not to use that opportunity she's handing to us on a platter."

Vonn is already the most successful skier the United States has ever produced, and should she overtake Moser-Proll's record, only one person could claim to have more wins than her -- Sweden's male legend Ingemar Stenmark, on 86.

Of Vonn's quest to cross the gender boundary, Hoedlmoser said: "That's something she really wants, she sees it as the next level of ski racing. She wants to see how far up she is, that's the only goal.

"She can compete with them, it all depends on the snow preparation, what the conditions are. We have situations in training where she trains against men. She's never done it in a race situation and I think that's where she really wants to be."

Vonn is backed by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and now seems determined to head down legal avenues to pursue her dream of sharing a slope with the men.

Lee-Gartner added: "I'm not sure if FIS will be able to say yes because they do things in a very old fashioned way. But she's a pioneer and for the first of anything it takes a little bit longer to break the barrier down."

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