A Big Week for the Ladies


BY BRADY STIFF

It’s a big week for women in sports.

The Olympics in Vancouver are about to get underway, and the biggest story going into the games (at least from the American side), is the injury to Lindsay Vonn.

Lindsay Vonn's Olympic status may be in doubt

The skier was favored to win at least one gold medal, and probably more.  She has a bruised shin, which wouldn’t be that big of a deal if her ski boot didn’t press right up against the bruise and make it excruciatingly painful for her.

Her injury situation reminds me of the Dwight Freeney drama leading up to the Super Bowl.  For a week, all we heard about was Freeney’s ankle and how it was progressing.  He ended up playing, and came up with the only sack of the game for either team, but ultimately he just wasn’t the same.

NBC is counting on the success of Lindsay Vonn to carry their ratings through the two week event.  Without Vonn, there’s really not much that’s that interesting about the Winter Olympics.  Hockey is just about the only other thing they could count on for ratings.

She tried to ski yesterday, doing one practice run.  She said her shin is progressing.  We’ll see what happens when the lights come on for real.

Jim Caple of ESPN says that Vonn could be the Kerri Strug of the Vancouver Olympics.  Remember her?  The tiny little girl who clinched the gold for the Americans in 1996?  She vaulted with a severely sprained ankle, stuck the landing, and the lasting image of Bela Karolyi carrying her off the stage is a classic.

From the Olympics to Daytona now, where Danica Patrick is set to make her NASCAR debut.  It’s the most anticipated rookie debut since Dale Jr.  She wasn’t going to run at Daytona unless she ran well in the ARCA race last weekend.  She finished sixth in that race, and even had to come from the back of the back of the pack after she spun out in the infield.

Danica will make her NASCAR debut on Saturday

The Nationwide Series is a different animal than ARCA, and she’ll be racing with some of the big boys (that’s another story for another post).  This will certainly be a big test for her, but all signs point to her being able to handle it.  She probably won’t win, and may not even finish in the top ten, but the experience she’ll gain will be invaluable.  She was going to have to get the experience anyways, so why not the first race of the year?  If she keeps having success, it won’t be long before we see her in the Sprint Cup races.

From the asphalt to the dirt, mark your calendars for April 9th.  A little-known track will become the focal point of the horse racing world as the undefeated Zenyatta will take on the 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.  This is the matchup horse racing fans have wanted to see for a long time.  Rachel’s connections took heat for refusing to run her in the Breeder’s Cup because of the synthetic surface.  This is their chance to redeem themselves.

The Apple Blossom Invitational will be on April 9th at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  The Oaklawn people raised the purse of the race from $500,000 to a cool $5 million to entice both parties to show up.  I mean, who can turn down a chance to win $3 million dollars?

Of course, if one of the horses backs out, the purse goes back to its original amount.

Zenyatta meets Rachel Alexandra in April

This race is huge for the sport, which has fallen on hard times as the economy has gone down the tubes.  I think the fact that it pits two female horses against each other is great for the sport as well.  They were, without a doubt, the two best horses in America last year, and like I said, it may end up being the most anticipated matchup since Seabiscuit met War Admiral for a match race in 1938.  I hope the race is televised on ESPN.  If not, the NTRA will have missed out on a giant opportunity to promote their sport that desperately needs new fans.

It’s too early to pick a winner in the race, but rest assured I’ll have a pick come April.  The fact that Zenyatta is undefeated may come into play, but we’ll see.

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Filed under Horse Racing, NASCAR, Olympics

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