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
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

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn