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.

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
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

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'