Winter Olympics 2014: A giant leap for Vanessa-Mae, but a small step back for the cause of women's sport

Mae was the last of the 67 finishers but was happy with completing the course as a whole host of competitors failed to finish the two giant slalom runs

When the Olympic circus packs up and leaves town, the plan is to open the slopes of Rosa Khutor for tourists to follow in the ski tracks of the Alpine greats. Today, as the first snow of the Games fell on the mountains, the first Olympic sightseer was given an early go. This was a giant leap for Vanessa-Mae and a small step back for the cause of women’s sport.

Racing as Vanessa Vanakorn, her father’s name, and for his country Thailand, Vanessa-Mae came 67th and last in the women’s giant slalom. When the times for her two runs were added up she was more than 50 seconds slower than the winner, Tina Maze of Slovenia, and a dozen slower than the woman who finished in 66th place.

“It’s so cool,” said Vanessa-Mae of achieving her dream to be an Olympian before she returns to the day job as a hugely successful classical musician. At 35 she was the oldest woman in the field. “You’ve got the elite skiers of the world and then you’ve got some mad old woman like me trying to make it down. I think it’s great the Olympics is here, it gives you the chance to try something new later in life.”

 

At a time when campaigners are pushing vigorously for long overdue better – and more respectful – coverage of women’s sport, the sight of Vanessa-Mae, in a bright orange helmet, carefully negotiating her way down the slope was not designed to push the cause. At least she made it through both her runs. Twenty two did not, including Julia Mancuso, an American who had her sights on a medal.

Read more:

Winter Olympics 2014: Vanessa Mae, Pussy Riot, Britain still rubbish - lessons learned from Sochi
Ashling O’Connor: Olympic spirit of Baron de Coubertin would embrace Vanessa-Mae playing 67th fiddle rather than focus exclusively on pursuit of gold
As the Olympic flame is extinguished in Sochi, homophobia is still burning bright

“I was just happy I didn't get lost, because this was my first two-gates [there are red and blue gates on the course] and I thought I was going to go the wrong side, but I made it down,” said Vanessa-Mae.

Under the rules of the FIS, skiing’s governing body, each non-Alpine nation is allowed to enter a solitary skier in the Games. The giant slalom is the most straightforward event, without the speed of the downhill and without the need for the technical skill required for the tighter gates of the slalom. It makes this race one for a minnows outing. There were 48 different nations taking part, including Malta, Portugal, Morocco, the US Virgin Islands and Togo – represented by an Italian who has also skied for India.

In the likes of Eddie the Eagle and the Jamaican bobsleighers, the Winter Olympics has had plenty of enthusiastic amateurs. The difference with Vanessa-Mae is that they were at least committed to their sports and trained long and hard to get there.

Vanessa-Mae trained for six months, describing her decision to try for the Olympics as a “last-minute kind of thing.” She has been skiing since the age of four, having learnt during family holidays in Val d’Isere and St Moritz. She always wanted, she says, to be a ski bum. Instead she became an Olympian.

To qualify athletes have to compete in a certain number of FIS recognised races to gain a world ranking. Vanessa-Mae persuaded the Thai Olympic association to accept her – she is British but since Eddie the Eagle the British Olympic Association has imposed more stringent qualifying standards. She just made the Games, competing in two low-key races over one weekend in Slovenia last month to earn a world ranking of 2,253. There were mutterings on the slopes that the FIS have been overly accommodating to her bid to make it here  

“My main focus was to really have a good time, to improve my speed in a very, very short amount of time and to help some animals out here [she promised a donation to animal charities if she made it to the Games],” she said.

She did improve her time, reaching the bottom two seconds faster in her second run. Meanwhile Maze had long since completed a rare sporting double, adding slalom gold to her downhill one. It had not been done for 40 years. That is a sporting achievement worth celebrating.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence