CBC Sports

Amateur sportsField of Play: Tales of the Unexpected

Posted: Friday, November 9, 2012 | 08:26 AM

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Four-time overall women's World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn of the United States was denied an opportunity by the International Ski Federation to compete in the men's downhill at Lake Louise, Alta., on Nov. 24. (Alain Grosclaude/Getty Images) Four-time overall women's World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn of the United States was denied an opportunity by the International Ski Federation to compete in the men's downhill at Lake Louise, Alta., on Nov. 24. (Alain Grosclaude/Getty Images)

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The decision not to let alpine skier Lindsey Vonn compete in a men's race is disheartening because now we'll never know what upset she might have staged or what sense of wonder it might have created. 

From my place in the stands, I see the magic of sport lying in the possibility of the unexpected happening. That's why the NHL lockout and the endless march of guys in designer suits in and out of hotel boardrooms has become so painfully boring.

In the absence of great goals and magnificent plays, we are subjected to business talk and nothing ever changes, nothing spectacular takes place. 

How could it? 

Instead of players chasing pucks and rivals at magnificent speeds over the frozen pond, they are arguing with owners over dollars and cents, guaranteed contracts and revenue sharing. The experts tell us to expect them to play again when the American TV money kicks in or when their livelihoods or businesses become threatened.

What a surprise! Money trumps passion for the game. Fans must be used to that by now.

That's why the decision by the old boys who run skiing not to let Lindsey Vonn race the men is disheartening. Now we'll never know what upset she might have staged or what sense of wonder she might have created.

"She earned the right to ask," world champion hurdler Perdita Felicien said the other day as we discussed it on the CBC Sports Weekend panel.

"Actually, I think she earned the right to compete," chimed in Jenn Heil, the Olympic gold-medal freestyle skier.

It seems like there was a thread to the conversation in that analysts of Vonn's rejected request by FIS were disappointed, but it's not like they didn't expect it would end up that way.

The wording wasn't even creative.

"We confirm that one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other," FIS said. "Exceptions will not be made to the FIS rules."

One might suggest that such a rigid, by-the-book approach to sport serves to rule out tales of the unexpected that exceptional athletes like Vonn are capable of weaving, whereas, say, Ian Millar's induction to the Canadian Show Jumping Hall of Fame speaks to a certain mystical quality that sport rarely captures these days. At the not so tender age of 65 and with 10 Olympics under his belt, Millar's still at the top of his game. The man they call "Captain Canada" expects to be in Rio de Janeiro for the next Games.

"I'll retire when the Olympics are awarded to my home town of Perth, Ontario," he said playfully the other night at his induction.

In other words, Millar may never retire. And why should he? He's still amongst the best in sport which, by the way, allows women to compete against the men on an equal footing.

This is not to mention the great stallion, Hickstead, who also went into Hall of Fame this week. Who could have foreshadowed that a horse too small and badly behaved under the guidance of a once-disgraced, now-redeemed rider Eric Lamaze would become the greatest of all-time? 

What a story!

If show jumping had done the expected, Lamaze's redemption might have never occurred and Hickstead would have been passed over in favour of larger more reliable horses.

Vonn's plight and the farce that the NHL work stoppage has become warn of the worst fate that can happen to sport in general. It all becomes too predictable and, when that takes place, the field of play can lose its magical quality. Missing is that exhilarating feeling that there's a reason to pay attention because you never know what might happen next.

What's on CBC Sports Weekend

This week, CBC Sports Weekend features the Rostelecom Cup from Moscow, the fourth stop on the ISU Grand Prix figure skating circuit.

Saturday at 3 p.m. ET, the men's competition is the headline story and so far Toronto's Patrick Chan has been all too unpredictable. The two-time World champion has plenty on the line as he needs a win or a second-place finish to be assured a place in the Grand Prix Final, to be held in the Olympic city of Sochi in early December.

Also Saturday, it's the ice dance, with Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir continuing to fine tune a new free dance on the way to the world championships in their hometown of London, Ont., in March.

Brenda Irving will have behind-the-scene conversations with Millar and Lamaze from the Canadian show jumping Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Sunday at 1 pm ET, it's the ladies and pairs competitions from Moscow as Championship Figure Skating on CBC has a full five hours on ice this Sports Weekend.

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