Only the third ever person to compete for Thailand in the winter games, world-renowned violinist Vanessa-Mae completed the giant slalom course at the Sochi Olympics 50 seconds out from winner Tina Maze. She called herself a “mad old woman” for taking part, at 35, and was grateful to have had the opportunity. Vanessa-Mae is a British citizen, but she skied for Thailand under her father’s surname, Vanakorn. Although she finished last of the 67 competitors. she said the experience had been amazing.
Her training started only six months ago and she qualified last month, coming in at number 2,353 in the world. As a musical supremo she has sold over 10 million albums. Vanessa-Mae’s first love may be music, but she has been skiing since she was four years old. This may explain why she has chosen to live in the Swiss resort of Zermatt. She was born in Singapore in 1978 but raised in London by her Thai father and Chinese mum. She began her professional career aged 10 when she gave her first concerto performance. Her first album Violin, came out when she was just 13.
Her performance on the slopes of Sochi may not have been the same start to a new international career in sport, but she loved it. It had been a lifetime ambition to compete in the Olympics. Most of all , she relished the Olympic spirit, and had not felt there was pressure on her. “Just to be part of it for a few days is special” she said. Being around the other “amazing skiers” made her feel shy, but they were all incredibly friendly.
When it came to the first run, she was unprepared for the sensation of speed but she made it to the bottom, last of the 74 who got down. In the second run, she picked up two seconds in speed and said it was “kind of rock and roll” almost crashing three times. The crowds and the atmosphere were so great that she had really wanted to turn around and thank them all. It was raining during her run, adding to the difficulty of the course.
Giant Slalom winner Tina Maze, of Slovenia, said she had been chatting with Vanessa-Mae earlier in the week and had enormous respect for her musical achievements.
It is not surprising these two discussed music, as Maze currently has a single out on YouTube which has had 600,000 hits. The violinist said she had talked about music and sport with lots of her fellow athletes in the canteen. She was not able to hang out with them in the Olympic Village as she could not stay there with her Chihuahua, Max.
Vanessa-Mae isn’t the only slightly unlikely person to be taking part in Sochi 2014. She joins the ranks of some other very interesting outsiders. There is Bruno Banani, the Tongan luge rider, sponsored by a German underwear company. There are husband and wife philanthropists, Gary and Angelica Di Silvestri, competing for the Dominican Republic in cross-country because they were granted citizenship for their work there founding children’s hospitals. Gary is American and Angelica Italian.
Then there is Prince Hubertus von Hohenlohe, the Mexican skier, the only man in the Mexican Skiing Federation; Yohan Goutt, Alpine skier for Australia despite having been born in East Timor during its civil war and Dachhiri Sherpa from Nepal, who said he had every chance of finishing last in cross-country. The 44-year-old Sherpa did not start skiing until he was 33, having been brought up in a monastery on the side of Mount Everest. Like Vanessa-Mae, he wanted to take part, not to win, but to inspire young people in Nepal about the spirit of the Olympics. And yes, there is still a Jamaican bobsleigh team.
“If you don’t take risks, what’s the point?” askes Vanessa-Mae “You have to enjoy life.” At the gala evening before the games, the famed violinist had been sat near to President Putin, and he told her he had thought it was a joke when he heard she was competing. She proved him wrong by getting down the giant slalom, doing herself, and Thailand, proud.
Vanessa-Mae may be a great violinist, but she has proved on the slalom at Sochi she is also a great sport.
By Kate Henderson