VIOLINIST Vanessa Mae is swapping her bow for a set of ski poles after qualifying to ski for Thailand at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics next month.
Mae, 35, a keen skier since childhood, has been competing as Vanessa Vanakorn, using her father’s surname.
The former child prodigy who shot to stardom in 1995 with her debut album Violin Player and achieved worldwide fame by collaborating with such pop stars as Janet Jackson and Prince, completed four gruelling races in Slovenia at the weekend in a last-ditch bid to meet the qualifying standard for the event.
Yesterday, the International Ski Federation, the skiing world’s governing body, published rankings confirming that the violinist had met the qualifying criteria to compete in Russia. Ana Jelusic, the federation’s alpine media coordinator, said the musician “ticks all the boxes”, having gained the required level of points in at least five slalom or giant slalom races.
Announcing her bid to qualify as early as mid-2010, Singapore-born, London-raised Mae said that despite all her musical accomplishments, she had long held an ambition to compete at the Winter Olympics and achieve success on the piste.
“It has been my dream and I am hoping people will accept I just want to give it my best. I am taking a plunge. I am British, but realistically there is no way I could represent my own country. Because my natural father is Thai, they have accepted me.”
Manager Giles Holland, speaking on behalf of Mae, said: “It would appear that she’s done it. She’s done it by a whisker, but she’s done it.”
Under current Olympic qualification rules, countries with no skier ranked in the world’s top 500 may send one man and one woman to the Games – to compete in slalom and giant slalom – if those athletes meet a second set of criteria.
Thailand has no skiers ranked in the world’s top 500 for any Alpine discipline. To meet the second criteria, Mae had to produce an average of 140 points or fewer over five recognised races – the fewer points an athlete has, the better they are.
Mae’s bid went down to the wire. Results on the federation’s website show she dipped under the 140-mark average thanks to strong results in a series of four back-to-back giant slalom races on Saturday and Sunday.
Mae even raced in a national junior championships, in which she was more than 14 years older than any other entrant, as time ran out. She is currently ranked 3,166th in the world in giant slalom. In 1990, the International Olympic Committee brought in what became known as the “Eddie the Eagle Rule”, which requires Games hopefuls to come in the top 30 per cent, or the top 50 of competitors, whichever is less, in international events.
The British Olympic Association (BOA) has much stricter selection criteria and will only put forward athletes who achieved a top-30 place in the FIS World Cup standings, or they must meet other strict specifications.
Graham Bell, who competed for Great Britain at five Winter Olympics, said he understood the logic of someone of Mae’s standard being able to compete but believed the BOA was right to have its own stringent rules.
“We should never lower our qualifying criteria,” he said. “The BOA have produced incredible teams in the summer Games over the last few years and we’re sending the strongest team that we’ve had for a long time to the Winter Olympics.
“It’s about getting representation for countries that aren’t considered winter sports nations. They don’t want the Winter Olympics to become too European and North American-dominated. But 17-year-olds in their first year of competition would be disappointed if they didn’t score less than 140.”