On Sunday evening, I sat down to watch an episode of Ski Sunday on BBC Two. Now if you've never seen Ski Sunday on BBC Two, there are just two things you need to know about it. Firstly, it features skiers skiing. Secondly, it has the finest intro music in the history of televised sport. That, in a nutshell, is what Ski Sunday is all about.
So, I was watching skiers do some skiing on Ski Sunday. And, as is so often the case with ski events, American Lindsey Vonn stepped up and annihilated the competition. Vonn's near-flawless run meant she beat the Swiss skier Fabienne Suiter, who came a very respectable second, by over 1.5 seconds. Now, 1.5 seconds might not sound like a lot. In fact, 1.5 seconds probably just passed in the time it's taken you to read this sentence. In the world of downhill ski racing however, 1.5 seconds is a lifetime.
Needless to say, the Ski Sunday presenters (including Mpora favourite Ed Leigh) were seriously stoked on Vonn's ferociously fast skiing. Vonn, who won gold in the Downhill at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, has now notched up 38 World Cup race wins and 76 career wins overall. She's like the mid-2000s-Roger-Federer of skiing; a figurehead for her sport and an inspiration to thousands of aspiring athletes.
I wasn't that surprised then when after taking a three-day weekend, I came in on Tuesday morning and saw that the internet was plastered with articles about Lindsey Vonn. I was, however, a bit surprised that the story had nothing to do with her triumphs on the slopes. Instead, the focus of the news stories was her appearance in Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition.
Comment pieces highlighting the unbelievably awesome skiing of Lindsey Vonn were, to say the least, pretty thin on the ground. Wheras pictures of a completely naked Vonn, "wearing" only a painted swimsuit, were readily available.
Now, I'm aware that Ski Sunday is a highlights package and doesn't usually go out on the same day as the event in question. In this particular case, the Downhill event in Germany was actually held on February the 6th so there was at least a week-long gap between Vonn's sensational win and the programme itself. However, the depressing reality that numerous news outlets care more about what Vonn's wearing (or not, in this case) than what's she doing on the mountain shows that there's still someway to go before female athletes are treated in the same way as their male counterparts.
Followers of action sports will know that this approach to female athletes is nothing new. Last year, you might remember, we reported the story of talented skateboarder Leticia Bufoni posing naked for the ESPN 2015 Body Issue 2015. And, of course, anyone who keeps tabs on the world of surfing will know that surfer/model Alana Blanchard is often celebrated more for her bikini-modelling than six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore is celebrated for her tube-riding.
Campaigns such as 'This Girl Can', fronted by athletes like snowboarder Aimee Fuller, are definitely a step in the right direction for gender equality. However, until media outlets start prioritising the discussion of women's sporting accomplishments over simply objectifying them in photoshoots then we'll continue to hit a brick wall.
— SI Swimsuit (@SI_Swimsuit) February 16, 2016
— SI Swimsuit (@SI_Swimsuit) February 15, 2016
These tweets from Sports Illustrated (@SI_Swimsuit) sort of sum up the point we're trying to make. Capitalising the word "stuns" and turning it into "STUNS" reeks of 90s lad culture. And the whole "You'll want to see Lindsey Vonn in body paint. Trust us..." makes it seem like the only thing Lindsey's good for is posing in body paint. In an ideal world the tweet would say "You'll want to see Lindsey Vonn do some skiing. Trust us..." but, rather depressingly, that's not the world we're living in.
Some of you might be reading this and think we're making a fuss about nothing. Why can't a consenting adult agree to a photoshoot, if that's what she wants to do? Vonn is, of course, entitled to do whatever she wants and far be it from us to tell her what to do.
The big question though comes down to whether high-profile nude shoots such as these mean that people who don't really follow skiing, will begin to associate Lindsey Vonn more with body paint swimsuits and Tiger Woods (the ending of their three-year relationship was widely reported in the tabloid press last year) than with her ability to totally kill it in downhill ski competitions.