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Not So Fast . . .

John Rowland

Posted on November 25, 2018 12:14

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Lindsey Vonn is a great female alpine skier -- certainly the winningest; but she is no Ingemar Stenmark.

Sports comparisons are always tricky; things are usually relative.

Comparing the '85 Bears defense with the Steel Curtain/Orange Crush/Doomsday/'01 Ravens; Montana vs. Brady; Koufax vs. Ryan, whatever.

And now, men vs. women.

As another ski season approaches, there's been talk that champion skier "Lindsey Vonn has her sights on breaking Ingemar Stenmark's all-time mark for World Cup victories." Vonn currently holds the women's mark for Cup victories at 82; Stenmark's record is 86 victories.

But as the FIS World Cup ski season cranks up at Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada, Vonn won't be there as she injured her knee while training for the Super-G at Copper Mountain in Colorado.

Should Vonn eclipse the record, some will leap to the conclusion that she is, as Muhammad Ali self-proclaimed, "the greatest [skier] of all time."

With apologies to the ladies, the situation is what it is; and it isn't what it isn't.

Apples and oranges, really.

The context of Vonn's (whose 18-year career will end after this season) success is measured against the likes of Annemarie Moser-Pröll (Austria) and Vreni Schneider (Switzerland), both of whose careers lasted only 11 years.

The context of Stenmark's record reads like a skiing Hall of Fame.

How about Jean-Claude Killy. Heard of him? Alberto Tomba?

The list goes on: Marcel Hirscher (still active), Hermann Maier, Marc Girardelli, Pirmin Zurbriggen, the great American Mahre brothers, yada yada.

For the statistical purists out there -- those wanting to directly equate Vonn with Stenmark, the apple with the orange -- suppose Vonn had raced against these gentlemen. She's probably talented enough to have won some, but not 82 races.

With this competitive differential in mind, career podium appearances set Stenmark even higher: Stenmark 155 (86-1st, 43-2nd, 26-3rd); Vonn 137 (82-1st, 35-2nd, 20-3rd).

For those stubbornly wanting to directly compare Vonn and Stenmark, what's a suitable metaphor -- how about soccer.

Anybody want to compare women's World Cup soccer squads with the men's team from Brazil? France?

Or any great college/Olympic women's softball team/champion with this year's BoSox?

But these are team sports, you say. Yes, good point.

In terms of individual sports, one reasonable comparison might be the Williams sisters of the tennis world. Who wouldn't want to see Serena Williams play Björn Borg, each in their prime?

These female athletes and teams are great and wonderful, but again, the situation is what it is and isn't what it isn't; most such direct comparisons can lead to silly conversations.

But while Vonn is no Stenmark, Stenmark was no Vonn.

In crude terms, she's got a bigger set in that she has successfully taken on the speed events -- something Stenmark didn't do, keeping only to the technical disciplines (slalom, giant slalom).

If Vonn does get the "record," great for her -- but don't get too excited, too carried away.

Now when Austria's Marcel Hirscher gets to 87 World Cup wins, then we can talk . . .

John Rowland

Posted on November 25, 2018 12:14


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