The Top Sports Science Stories of 2012: Ted Ligety and Lindsey Vonn Battle the FIS

American skiers take on skiing’s ruling body over rules about ski length and gender restrictions

Ted Ligety and Lindsey Vonn.     Photo: U.S. Ski Team/Flickr

In July 2011, the International Ski Federation decided to require longer, straighter skis to improve safety, beginning with the 2012-2013 season. They wanted to reduce risk after finding out that from 2006 to 2010 nearly a third of skiers suffered an injury. They teamed up with the University of Salzburg and interviewed 63 experts before coming out with the decision to increase ski length. The change wasn’t a result of peer-reviewed studies, but rather a set of recommendations from ski experts. The skis required for giant slalom, one of three alpine disciplines, had the biggest change. One of the athletes in that discipline, American skier Ted Ligety, complained the loudest. “It would be like going from a sports car to driving a semi truck,” Ligety told Outside’s Mike Webster in 2011. “It’s just such a huge difference.

Ligety wrote that the FIS was a tyranny and said the change would tip the scales in favor of larger skiers. He also expressed doubt that the change would reduce injuries. He wasn’t alone. In late December 2011, David Dodge, the former chief research and development engineer at Rossignol USA, questioned the scientific basis for the switch and said that the new rules might lead to unstable leg geometry and a higher probability of ACL injury.

Queue the 2012 season. Ligety blew his competition away on the longer skis, in one race by more than two seconds. Other athletes wanted Ligety’s skis checked. The FIS assured them the American’s gear met standards. As for the injuries? The FIS has not responded to a request for injury numbers so far this year.

Lindsey Vonn has been skiing on men’s planks for years. She has also trained with men. Last winter, Vonn captured her fourth overall World Cup women’s title in five years. This winter, she decided to take what she said was the next logical jump to raise the stakes, requesting that the FIS let her race against the men at Lake Louise. The FIS refused her request. “The Council respected Lindsey Vonn’s proposal to participate in men’s World Cup races and confirmed that one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other and exceptions will not be made to the FIS Rules,” they said in a written statement. “In terms of her request to participate in the men’s downhill in Lake Louise, she is welcome to submit a request to the Organising Committee and jury to be a forerunner.”

In other words, Vonn could ski the course before the men, but could not compete against them directly. In December, the 28-year-old said she wasn’t satisfied, and hinted she might try a different approach to achieve her goal. “So right now I'm looking into options,” she told CNN. “My father is an attorney, so I'm just seeing if there's any options, legally, that I can take."

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