Violin virtuoso Vanessa-Mae’s Winter Olympic debut was more lento than presto on Tuesday, her rhythm more rallentando than accelerando as she completed the first leg of the Alpine skiing giant slalom.
Skiing for Thailand under her natural father’s surname Vanakorn, the 35-year-old Singapore-born British citizen who spends much of her time in Switzerland was 74th and last on the timesheets. Her time of 1:44.86 was a considerable 26.98 seconds slower than Slovenia’s Tina Maze, fastest down the 54-gate run on an overcast morning with rain falling steadily.
Mae was 7.83 seconds slower than the 73rd placed finisher, China’s Lina Xia, and while her style may have erred on the side of caution she at least got to the finish – unlike Julia Mancuso, the US Olympic woman skier with the most medals.
“I think now I’m ready to go for speed,” Mae told reporters, spending more time in finish area television interviews than any of the race favourites.
“A week of training with not much race experience … training has been really short and controlled and so I really feel the need for speed.”
Giant slalom is the only race Mae is entered in at the Sochi Games.
“It’s so cool,” she told the BBC. “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. If you do everything when you’re young, you leave no fun until the end.”
She qualified at the very last moment and has had only six months training. She said it had been hard to keep her focus on the hill.
“I was just happy I didn’t get lost, because this was my first two-gates and I thought I was going to go the wrong side, but I made it down,” she said. “I’m a last-minute kind of girl, I mean, training for the Olympics with six months to go was a last minute thing.
“I nearly crashed three times, but I made it down and that was the main thing. Just the experience of being here is amazing.”
Mae said she would take part in the second run and had expected to be last. The time, and where she finished, was almost immaterial. Taking part was what mattered.
“I said to myself, if I qualify I’m going to set a goal for myself. I made a pledge and I’m going to make a big donation to charity because I support animal charities,” added the musician.
“My main purpose for being here was to really have a good time, to improve my skiing in a very short amount of time and to help some animals out there.”
Asked whether she had taken out any special insurance in case she hurt her arm, Mae shrugged off the question.
“I think you have to take risks in life at the end of the day,” she said. “You can insure yourself up to your eyeballs but if you don’t enjoy life, what’s the point.”
Her presence has been a major talking point, the musician better known globally than most of those fighting for gold, and has been welcomed by other athletes.
“Of course I’m excited. It’s nice to see such a great musician take part in our sport and hopefully reach a good result,” Germany’s 2010 giant slalom gold medallist Viktoria Rebensburg had said earlier.
Germany’s triple gold medallist Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who did not start on Tuesday on account of a sore throat, said: “When you see Vanessa Mae, she’s so small and fragile, you can’t imagine how she can finish a run like that or even hit a gate.”