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In Defense of Lindsey Vonn: Get the Medals, Ignore the Hype.

Lindsey VonnI’ve spent most of the day thinking about Lindsey Vonn. As I took the train to Annecy under the snow and rain, I thought about skiing (of course) and I also thought about this article that I saw in one of the Yahoo http://sports.yahoo.com/olympics/vancouver/blog/fourth_place_medal/post/Let-the-Lindsey-hype-begin-Vonn-is-Sports-Illus?urn=oly,217525! blogs earlier today. I went to the article in question at womentalksports.com and read a lot of their concerns. I feel the Sports Illustrated cover is being a bit dramatized and is nothing more than a combination of elements brought together for – basically – one common goal: to sell a magazine.

For those of you who haven’t seen the cover yet, here it is:

I wonder how many of you will see the cover and read the controversy without looking at Lindsey Vonn’s stats? They’re outstanding for a young skier – for any skier. Let’s begin by saying that since the beginning of 2010, she has finished in the top three of the FIS various World Cup disciplines http://www.fis-ski.com/uk/604/613.html?sector=AL&competitorid=30368&type=result eight times so far. She has also been focusing on winning five gold medals at the Olympics – a feat never before accomplished. In fact, according to this New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/07/magazine/07Vonn-t.htmlnews article no skier has ever won more than two gold medals in a career, let alone an Olympics. Not to mention that recently she locked up the Super G title http://www.usskiteam.com/alpine/news?storyId=2410.

The talk of the web may focus on her “provocative position” on the cover of the recent SI magazine. I don’t think I’ve ever skied in any other position going down hill. In fact, I’d add that if she’s ripping 100mph or more down hill her position is incorrect: she needs a helmet. The suit is just par for the course: ever try skiing downhill in a rain jacket?

Unfortunately, Lindsey is the victim of a lot of hype. Yet at the same time she’s breaking old standards. On the original blog post on One Sport Voice http://nicolemlavoi.com/2010/02/02/vonn-watch/, the author states that only four percent of SI covers have portrayed women over the past 60 years. I totally agree that is a low percentage, but let’s look at women’s sport in America over the past 60 years. Or better yet, let’s look at the American women’s National Soccer team compared to other nations. America has never been considered a strong soccer nation (the men’s team is only recently getting better on a world scale). Yet the women’s National team is ranked No. 1. Why? Because no other nation in the world supports women’s soccer as much as the US does. I’d be willing to bet that 60 years ago women in skiing, or soccer or basketball or any other sport that wasn’t gymnastics or ice-skating or pigeon-holed as “a woman’s sport” were nonexistent. There were less women in popular athletics, and as a result, there were fewer women on the cover of SI. But athletes like Lindsey are going to change all that.

Lastly, Sports Illustrated is a magazine that makes its money off of print sales (possibly one of the few that will remain offline). Their customer base is primarily men. However an interesting report by Harper’s Index http://www.harpers.org/index/1998/2/36 shows that SI readership increases during the swimsuit edition within men by a factor of two; whereas in women the increase is by three. That shows us (as the Greeks knew as well in their classical theater – a certain Helen comes to mind) that attractive people bring audiences to the stadium. That is what all of the designers, photographers, hair stylists, make-up technicians and Sports Illustrated managers are paid to do, regardless of Lindsey’s talents.

It’s just a magazine. Lindsey is the real star. She’s not showing her backside – she’s breaking ground. And I’ll be there cheering her all the way down the slope to her quintuple gold medal dream.

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