KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Don't give up the day job, Vanessa-Mae.
The Sochi Games were good to the diva of violin classical pop. She now gets to call herself an Olympian having survived — the word "compete" isn't really applicable — the giant slalom. After gingerly completing both runs, she applied some lipstick, checked her look in a pocket mirror, strapped on a watch from a sponsor, pushed up her coat sleeve to make sure it was visible on her wrist, and then went out to bathe in the attention of the world's media.
She laughed for the microphones. She said how "really cool" it all was. She slipped in how she plans to celebrate her Olympic participation by donating "a heap of money" to animal charities. And the whole while, a man who followed along at her side — he wouldn't say who he was — made sure she was holding a branded pair of skis when speaking to camera and that the manufacturer's name was clearly visible.
All in all, it looked like a pretty fruitful day for Vanessa-Mae Inc. And, if you're Vanessa-Mae, an absolute hoot. "The Olympics is like the greatest show on Earth and to just share the same snow, to be able to slide down the same snow that the elite skiers carve down is just an honor and a privilege," she said. "So, you know, when I get to even train with some of them for like two runs, sometimes I'm already a little bit like, 'Ooh, that's so cool!' So imagine to be in the same race as them."
But what do the Olympic Games get in return? From a competitive standpoint, absolutely nothing. When Tina Maze hit the slope, you knew that you were watching the best of the best. Bullying the slalom course, aggressively thwacking past the gates, the Slovenian embodied the Olympic motto — "Faster, Higher, Stronger" — as she raced to gold.
Top competitors hate to lose. They sulk. They beat themselves up. They cry. They vow they'll do better next time. But Vanessa-Mae didn't seem to care that she was last of the 67 finishers, that she was short on style and slowest of those who finished in both runs. Or that her combined time for both was 50 seconds slower than Maze's. That is an eternity in ski racing. The margin between Maze's gold and Anna Fenninger's silver was just 0.07 seconds.
"I expected to be last but, you know, at the end of the day the Olympics is a great opportunity," Vanessa-Mae said after her first run. "My main purpose for being here was to really have a good time, to improve my skiing in a very, very short amount of time."
In which case, why not just take ski lessons like other mere mortals? Using the Olympics to improve one's parallel turns cheapens them, mocking the idea that the games are the pinnacle of sport. Other competitors were plenty supportive of Vanessa-Mae.
"That's part of the Olympic Games to have so many people competing and so (many) different countries," said Swiss racer Dominique Gisin, who tied for the gold with Maze in downhill and finished 10th in giant slalom. "Yesterday I saw an athlete from Togo. Yeah, that's cool, I think. That's the amazing part of the Olympics Games, to give all of the people from all over the world a chance to compete."
Well, yes. But it's preferable that Olympians at least look like they're giving it their all. Vanessa-Mae is entitled to be at the Sochi Games. She took part in European races to qualify, making the January deadline only narrowly, "by my chihuahua's whisker," as she put it.
"I think I slightly underestimated how much work goes into being an athlete," she said. She also is fortunate that her father is from Thailand, which enabled her to compete under the Thai flag and with his surname, Vanakorn. Had she been born Swiss, Austrian or from any other skiing power, she wouldn't have made their Olympic teams, because those countries have young kids who ski steep slopes better and more aggressively than Vanessa-Mae did.
"I was lucky that the Olympics, you know, allow exotic nations, for people like me who have day jobs, we can still manage to qualify for the Olympics," Vanessa-Mae said. So here she is, staying in the Olympic village, rubbing shoulders with the best.
"It's been really chill, you know? You're just sharing a table with some guy who just won gold and some girl who just won gold. I mean they are gods and goddesses." As for herself, Vanessa-Mae said: "I'm a hobby skier."
In which case, stick with the violin. Leave competitive skiing and the Olympics to those who really take them seriously.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester