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Goodson: Women And Ski Racing

02/18/10 5:55PM By LeeLee Goodson
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(HOST)  Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn made history with an Olympic gold in downhill yesterday.  This has commentator LeeLee Black Goodson thinking about women, sports, and ski racing.

(GOODSON) Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 mandated gender equity in all federally funded education programs, including school sports.   That was 36 years ago, and for many women it marked the beginning of gender equity in sports.  Suddenly girls were encouraged to think of themselves as athletes.

I was twelve when that law passed, and truthfully for me it wasn't that big of a deal; not just because I was still politically naive, but because where I came from girls had always been encouraged to think of themselves as athletes.  It was not only acceptable for women to be strong and accomplished, it was expected.  I grew up in Stowe during the sixties and seventies - in a jock culture that I now realize was gender-inclusive.

My role models were women who had established themselves as strong and successful ski-racers.  There was Stowite Marilyn Shaw McMahon who in 1940 at age 16 won the Combined National Championships in Sun Valley and was selected for the Olympic games that year, which were canceled because of WW II.   The next year she won the National Slalom Championship in Aspen.  She was the mother of one of my childhood friends.

There was Jill Kinmont, who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1955, as a shoe-in for the US Olympic Ski Team; Vermonters Andrea Mead Lawrence who won two gold medals - one in slalom and one in giant slalom in the 1952 Oslo Olympics; and Betsy Snite Riley who won a silver in Slalom in the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics.

The Cochran sisters from Richmond - Barbara Ann, Lindy and Marilyn - dominated ski racing in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  And Penny Pitou of New Hampshire, silvered in the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics in both downhill and giant slalom.

There were also the lesser-known but exceptionally talented Patti Harrington, Rosi Fortna, Erica Skinger and Karen Budge Eaton who were making international names for themselves in the ‘60s.  And finally there were my friends and contemporaries - like Stowe's Lyndall Heyer and Heidi Knight -- both selected for the US Alpine Ski Team in the ‘70s; 1988 Nordic Olympian Leslie Thompson, Jan Reynolds, Member of U.S. World Cup Biathlon Team, and Nancy Bell-Johnstone, 1992 Olympic Biathlete.

And I'm sure I've left people out of this list.

It was simply a given growing up in a ski town: not only had women been racing successfully since the birth of competitive skiing, but we were expected by our coaches, parents, and peers to be physically strong.   It was the norm.

On Wednesday in Vancouver, Lindsey Vonn did what no American woman has done before: won a gold medal in an Olympic downhill.  Add her name to those great women who preceded her in ski-racing history; women who embody the qualities that I admire: strength, tenacity, fearlessness and confidence.  Thanks to women like these, girls today, including my own daughter, have always assumed that women can, do, and should hold their own in sports - and life.

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