Lindsey Vonn and the spectacle of great female athletes

Lindsey Vonn is as physically captivating as she is athletically accomplished.

Considering just how great a skier she is, that’s saying a lot. So why isn’t that enough?

But let’s not kid ourselves, her looks matter. A lot. (Just ask Google.)

If for no other reason than to celebrate the athletic body over the mop handle-thin runway figure, I’m all for seeing the bodies of athletic women revealed in sweaty sauna room photo shoots and against the pocked brick walls of a hipster loft above some affluent ski town’s craft cider bar. However, what does that do for the athlete other than drag her into yet another droll, pop-culture debate about whether she’s really good or just really hot?

Those in the know, know. Those who glean world news from magazine cover shots and 64-point headlines in Aerial Black simply have yet another woman in sports known for being a pretty good skier but more importantly, for how she looks in ski boots and a sports bra. And without fail, she’ll be condescendingly propped up by the fascinatingly vacuous entertainment news world with vacant turns of phrase like “Girl is in shape” and “She’s single guys!”

Does this kind of exposure advance the cause of promoting women’s fitness or only further weigh it down? What’s it do for the great female athletes who don’t resemble the heroine in a Frank Frazetta painting?

We simply can’t help but reduce our best women into sex symbols. Sure, she’s making the most of her opportunities. She’s smart. Ms. Vonn knows athletic prowress fades and injuries haunt every gate. Get what you can, when you can. Certainly there are more than enough editors, producers and sponsors to help you do that.

I can tell you this, the more half-nude cover shots (sigh) the iconic Lindsey Vonn does, the less of a chance she’s going to have of being accepted by the guys. At least by the guys that matter.

On that note, why does it matter if she can compete against the guys? Ultimately, I don’t see the point. The more often we juxtapose women against men the wider the divide becomes. Billy Jean King wiped the court with a loudmouth chauvinist decades ago and yet, we’re still in the same place, aren’t we? Every great female athlete does not have to be turned into someone else’s cause.

The best male skiers know exactly what she’s capable of. Her trainers, coaches and ski circuit writers know what she can do. Why do we have to dumb-down accomplishment for the sake of a vapid pop-culture cover story? It seems to me that we’re growing ever more desperate to ensure those who don’t matter understand what’s being talked about. Far too much time is spent contributing to the din of the¬†unsophisticated.

I could see it now: Red Bull sponsors it. ESPN2 covers it. And Outside blogs about it. She wins or loses. Either way, we’ll still never know who’s better. But it sure will garner a lot of tweets. It just won’t do much for the acceptance of women as equal athletes.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe some aspiring young skier can see through the rouge and cover art exclamation marks and envisions herself on the podium wearing gold, not sprawled across a cat track in a two-piece. If even one young girl is inspired to that level of greatness, maybe that’s enough. Provided of course, that’s the intent of what’s happening today.

Now look to the window, and could we darken the eye liner a bit?