Monday 16 December 2019

Vanessa-Mae: How the violinist fiddled her way into skiing at the 2014 Winter Olympics

The virtuoso violinist has been banned by the International Ski Federation for race-rigging

Mae has been banned from for four years
Mae has been banned from for four years

Tom Peck

It had been one of those gloriously idiosyncratic tales that defied belief in the way that perhaps only sport can: the violin prodigy who had became an Olympic downhill skier almost overnight.

But after her last-place finish in Sochi this year, 50 seconds behind the winner, many wondered how Vanessa-Mae had managed to qualify.

Now the answer has been revealed, leaving her with a four-year ban for race-rigging  and deception on a massive scale.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) found that qualifying races had been organised by Mae’s own management company with the assistance of Thailand’s Olympic Committee simply to get her into the tournament.

One retired skier with a far higher ranking than all the other competitors took part solely to boost the number of qualification points her participation would make available to the other competitors.

Several of the competitors who recorded times on those days not only did not race but were not even present – and many skiers who did not finish and were of even lower quality than Mae had finishing times attributed to them.

In a decision made public today, an FIS panel said it “found to its comfortable satisfaction that the results of the four ladies’ giant slalom races that took place on 18 and 19 January at Krvavec were manipulated”.

It added: “A previously retired competitor with the best FIS points in the competition took part for the sole purpose of lowering the penalty to the benefit of the participants in the races.”

Five officials from Italy and Slovenia have been banned for between one and two years for their part in the sham event.

They were found to have broken rules by not adjusting the layout of the course between the first and second runs – and by allowing races  to continue when they should have been abandoned because of poor weather.

“Those who have been sanctioned have been sanctioned for good reason,” Gian-Franco Kasper, the FIS president, told the Associated Press. “At first we were laughing when we heard it. But then we realised it’s quite a serious thing.”

Mae was born in Singapore to a Chinese mother and Thai father but was raised in London and is a British citizen. She said she had chosen to represent Thailand as she would have a better chance of making the games; she is only the third person to have competed for the country at a Winter Olympics.

In the build-up to the Sochi Games in January, Mae – who had been racing under the Thai name Vanessa Vanakorm – had spoken many times about her “dream” of competing, and how her love of skiing dated back to childhood.

After a performance that might have embarrassed even Britain’s own famed-loser Eddie the Eagle – coming in 67th position out of 67 skiers – Mae said the experience had been “amazing”.

“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,” she said.

However, as some suspicious experts in the sport pointed out at the time, such a juxtaposition has never been the stated purpose of the elite games. She was ranked well outside the world’s top 2,000 skiers in the event.

The 36-year-old has 21 days to appeal against the rulings to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. “But it doesn’t make much difference for her,” Mr Kasper said. “She was racing [the Olympics] probably only once and that’s all. But in any case we prevented her from being at the next Olympics.”

The revelation will be humiliating for a musician who has sold more than eight million albums and collaborated with such pop stars as Janet Jackson and Prince.

However, it is not her first brush with controversy. She was criticised in 2011 for playing at a party hosted by the Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov – despite his being implicated in torture and human rights abuses – for a reported fee of £324,000.

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