Is This Any Way To Run A Sport?

March 21, 2011

Lindsey Vonn, winner of three straight overall World Cup skiing titles, was written off a few weeks ago. Her close friend and biggest rival, Maria Riesch, held a seemingly insurmountable 200-point lead with just a handful of races left in the season. Vonn, recovering from a concussion, had all but conceded the title.

But then Vonn caught fire, storming back in the season’s home stretch as Riesch faltered. Vonn took back the overall lead. Then Riesch rallied to pull back in front. Going into Saturday’s final race of the season, Riesch held a three-point lead over Vonn. The overall title would be decided in the season’s last race, a giant slalom at Lenzerheide, Switzerland. The skiing world was abuzz.

Saturday came, and then … they canceled the race. Not rescheduled it, canceled it! The course was foggy and snow conditions were deemed poor. So Riesch was declared the season winner, Vonn lost her title without a final chance to defend it and the sports world was denied an exciting, winner-take-all match that would have been talked about for years to come.

Can you imagine a scenario in which the Yankees hold a one-game lead over the Red Sox, the two teams are set to play the final game of the season, and … it rains. Sorry, guys — Yankees win! Or Dale Earnhardt Jr. is clinging to a three-point lead over Jimmie Johnson before NASCAR’s final race in Miami, and there’s a tropical storm blowing through the Sunshine State that day. Too bad, Jimmie — Junior’s going to take home the trophy. See you next year!

I didn’t know that world-class skiing competition operated this way. They couldn’t have waited a day or two for the fog to lift? With the overall title at stake by the slimmest of margins? And I wonder how Vonn’s sponsors feel about losing the chance to promote their products through association with the overall World Cup champion? There are probably a few marketing campaigns with a championship theme that have been shelved. (Vonn did win season titles in three individual disciplines: downhill, super-G and super-combined.)

Riesch is a great skier and a deserving champion, but she should have won her title on the hill with one final race — even if that took another week of waiting.