|Violinist Vanessa Mae|
BANGKOK (AFP) ― Violinist Vanessa Mae has officially qualified to ski for Thailand at the Winter Olympics and will lead the sun-soaked kingdom’s biggest-ever team to Sochi’s snowy slopes, an official said Tuesday.
The 35-year-old former child prodigy, whose father is Thai, is one of two competitors who will represent the Southeast Asian nation in Russia next month ― both on skis.
“We just received official notification that two Thais qualified including Mae,” a member of the Olympic Committee of Thailand, who did not want to named, told AFP.
“We are very excited. Although there is little chance of winning, the Thai flag will be flown there,” he said, noting that it will be only the third time for Thailand to compete at the winter games.
Mae, born in Singapore to Thai and Chinese parents, grew up in London where she become renowned for what she has described as her “techno-acoustic fusion.”
Because Thailand has no skiers ranked in the world top 500, it is allowed to send one man and one woman for the slalom and giant slalom events if they have an average of no more than 140 points over five internationally recognized races.
A stronger performance earns fewer points.
Mae, a British citizen who has been training in Zermatt in Switzerland for several years, qualified after competing in Slovenia over the weekend under her father’s surname Vanakorn.
Ana Jelusic of the International Ski Federation, said Mae “ticks all the boxes.”
“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. It also requires her to come below a certain number of FIS points, which in this case is 140. She has done so.”
Mae began skiing at the age of four, around the same time as she began playing the piano, before taking up the violin at five, she told the Daily Telegraph in an interview in 2010.
“And I’m lucky that having begun my musical career so young, it’s rather wonderful that I can now focus on my hobby,” she said.
Music would “always be my greatest passion”, she added.
“But now I am no longer recording an album a year as I did in my teens. To be honest, that became a treadmill. The endless touring, the promotions. By the time I got to 20, I was no longer enjoying it.”
News of her qualification was met with a muted response in tropical Thailand, where winter sports have traditionally been a luxury enjoyed only by the jet-setting elite.
“I’ve listened to her music for a long time. Now I will watch her playing sport,” said one of the few comments posted on local online discussion sites.
Until now the only Thai to ski at the Winter Olympics was academic Prawat Nagvajara, who competed in Salt Lake City in 2002 and at Pragelato in Italy in 2006.
The kingdom’s Olympic Committee said the other Thai competitor in Sochi will be Kanes Sucharitakul, 21, who lives in France.
Thailand is not the only sun-drenched nation sending athletes to Sochi’s icy slopes ― Jamaica’s bobsleigh team have been given the nod to compete at what will be their third Winter Games.