Snow Queen: Violinist Mae to compete in Sochi

Vanessa Mae says she first skied at the age of four, a year before she started to learn the violin.

Story highlights

  • Violinist Vanessa Mae qualifies for Sochi 2014 in alpine skiing
  • Musician will compete as Vanessa Vanakorn, her father's surname, for Thailand
  • Child prodigy has sold 10 million albums worldwide
  • Only one Thai has previously competed at the Winter Olympics

Over the years, the Winter Olympics has thrown up a variety of competitors that defy logic.

There was Jamaica's legendary bobsled team, a cross-country skier from Kenya and Britain's Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards, whose inept performances in 1988 prompted a change in the qualifying rules.

Now, one of the world's most famous violinists can be added to the eclectic mix.

This weekend, Vanessa Mae -- who has sold over 10 million albums worldwide -- sneaked through qualifying for next month's Olympics.

"She's done it by a whisker, but she's done it," manager Giles Holland told the BBC.

In Sochi, Mae will compete as Vanessa Vanakorn, using the surname of her Thai father and representing his homeland as well.

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The Olympic Rings stand outside of Sochi International Airport on January 8, 2014 in Alder, Russia. The region will host the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics which start on February 6th, 2014.

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She may be used to racing through scales, her fingers dancing atop the strings of a violin, but the 35-year-old must now negotiate a very different rhythm as she is pitched into the giant slalom.

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    With the Games starting on February 7, Mae left it late to book her place -- only claiming the relevant qualifying marks this weekend, which the International Ski Federation (FIS) confirmed on Monday.

    Olympic qualification rules determine that countries without a skier ranked in the world's top 500 can send one male and one female competitor to the Games -- to compete in slalom and giant slalom -- as long as the athletes can achieve a second set of criteria.

    This was to produce an average of 140 points or fewer over five recognized races.

    She managed this over the weekend after competing in four giant slalom races in Slovenia, even competing in a national junior championship race where the diminutive Mae, 5ft 3in, stuck out by virtue of being 14 years older than her nearest rival.

    "According to the qualification system which we have, which requires her to start at least five slalom or giant slalom races, she has done so," said Ana Jelusic, the FIS's Alpine media co-ordinator.

    "It also requires her to come below a certain number of FIS points, which in this case is 140. She has done so."

    Lifelong Hobby

    Mae started skiing at the age of four, a year before she took up the violin, and she describes the sport as her 'lifelong hobby'.

    Such an attitude fueled her decision to relocate from London to Zermatt, after buying a house in the Swiss resort in 2009, where she lives with long-term boyfriend Lionel Catelan, for whom skiing is also in the blood after growing up in the French town of Val d'Isère.

    The musician will become only the second Winter Olympian to represent Thailand.

    In 2002, Prawat Nagvajara was so slow on his debut that he was pulled out of his race, before improving -- as it were -- to finish last in his cross country event at the Turin Games four years later.

    At the age of 10, Mae made her solo debut with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. Three years later, she was the youngest soloist ever to record the demanding Beethoven and Tchaikovsky violin concertos.

    Born in Singapore, she grew up in London where she became famous for what she herself has termed "techno-acoustic fusion", a mix of classical and modern styles.

    Mae has said that she will return to her music once her Olympic dream is over.

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