British pop star Vanessa-Mae takes skiing for Thailand seriously

The Miami HeraldFebruary 17, 2014 

Sochi Olympics

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, left, chats with former musician Vanessa-Mae, who will compete for Thailand as alpine skier Vanessa Vanakorn

ANDREJ ISAKOVIC — ASSOCIATED PRESS

— Tina Maze, the Slovenian Olympic gold medalist in the downhill and a favorite for Tuesday’s giant slalom, is a pop star in her home country. Her single, My Way is My Decision, reached the top of the charts in 2012.

But she won’t be the most famous musician on the race course Tuesday at Rosa Kutor Alpine Center.

Vanessa Vanakorn, better known as Vanessa-Mae, is a 35-year-old professional violinist and sex symbol who has sold more than 10 million records and recorded with the likes of Janet Jackson and Prince. She is known for her blend of classical-pop-techno style and her racy photo shoots.

She was born in Singapore to a Chinese mother and a Thai father, raised in London, but will be competing for Thailand under her father’s surname. She is a huge star in England, where in 2006 she was named the wealthiest artist younger than 30. The British press has been covering her Olympic endeavor closely.

She is a child prodigy who made her professional debut at age 10 in Germany. By 13, she had become the youngest solo violinist to record both the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky concertos, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

“People are surprised when they see me skiing — a classical violinist, Oriental, who has lived in the city all her life,” Vanakorn told British reporters before coming to the Games. “But it has been my dream to be a ski bum since I was 14. This is something I’m determined to do.”

She began skiing at 4 but considered that more of a hobby while she focused on violin.

Though she is a British citizen, she said she chose to compete for her birth nation because it would have been too difficult to make the British ski team.

“I’m British, but realistically, there is no way I could represent my own country. But because my natural father is Thai, they have accepted me. I wanted to compete for Thailand because there is a part of me that I have never celebrated — being Thai.”

Because Thailand has no skiers ranked in the top 500 in the world, the International Olympic Committee allows the nation 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.

Mae has been training for four years in Zermatt, Switzerland, and finally qualified after four races in Slovenia. She insists racing in the Olympics is not a publicity stunt, and that skiing has her full focus while she’s here.

Mae’s manager, Giles Holland, has been turning away interview requests and said she is not seeking publicity as she prepares for her race.

“Vanessa has been told by her coach to turn off her BlackBerry,” Holland said. “She knows that the Olympic Games require her full focus. She wants to do well. Already, she is torn in two, with her music career. She doesn’t want any more distractions.”

The other skiers — particularly those from Europe — are aware of the celebrity violinist and have been welcoming to her at the ski venue. “It’s interesting there are such people among us, when you see her, how small she is, how petite,” Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany said of the 5-3 Vanakorn.

She may be diminutive, but she surely will be noticed on the mountain.

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