KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – When Tina Maze and Vanessa-Mae sat next to each other last week in Sochi, it was serendipity defined – one Olympic gold medalist seeking a career in music, and one world-renowned musician seeking to compete one Olympic race.
And neither realized who the other person was.
They would figure it out eventually, this odd symmetry. Maze has won four Olympic medals for Slovenia and has a music video on YouTube quickly approaching 600,000 hits. Vanessa-Mae has more than 10 million record sales and just recently qualified to be an Olympian for Thailand. Each has something the other wants, and each is delighted to be sharing in their counterpart's most successful pursuit.
"We met, we spoke after the super-G race," Maze said "…I didn't realize I was sitting beside her. And then I saw it was Vanessa-Mae and I have huge respect for what she's doing in music. We managed to exchange some words. She's really nice."
The pair met again Tuesday, with Maze winning gold in the giant slalom and Vanessa-Mae coming down in last place among skiers who completed both of their runs, 50.10 seconds off the pace. But finishing 74th overall didn't faze Vanessa-Mae, who was skiing under her family name, Vanakorn. She waved happily to the crowd at the finish, and made sure to stop and talk with Maze, congratulating her on her second gold medal of these Games.
"She has a great personality," Maze said. "[Finishing last] doesn't matter. She's been changed."
Maybe. Mae seemed most excited to have stayed upright.
"I was just happy I didn't get lost," she said after the first of two runs. "I thought I was going to go down the wrong side, but I made it down. … I nearly crashed three times, but I made it down and that was the main thing. Just the experience of being here is amazing."
Mae told reporters she began training for these Olympics only six months ago, deciding to make a last-minute run at a dream. A skier since the age of 4, she barely qualified in a late-January event to become one of two Winter Olympians from Thailand.
Once in Sochi and training with Olympians, she admitted to expecting to finish last in her event – if she finished at all. But she used her platform to her advantage, too, becoming vocal about animal rights and her plans to make a large donation to an animal charity. And while there was some consternation about risking her extremely valuable limbs in a ski race, she said she was insured up to her "eyeballs."
"If you don't take risks, what's the point," she said. "You have to enjoy life."
Maze didn't reveal details of their conversations, but it would be hard to believe she didn't ask for some tips on the music industry. Maze has dabbled in the business, putting out a single and music video called "My Way is My Decision" in 2012. Already a hit in her country of Slovenia, the video has rolled up another 150,000 views since the Olympics began, likely because of Maze's domination: She's won gold medals in the downhill and giant slalom. She also has two silver medals from the 2010 Vancouver Games.
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The video is remarkable in several respects, including that Maze – who fields a thick Eastern European accent – somehow manages to sing in perfect Americanized English. She also plays air guitar on a set of skis, which is something you don't see every day.
By athlete standards, it's a solid musical effort, but she's not quitting her day job after a dominant run in Sochi has her positioned for a treasure chest of World Cup endorsements. Her success here, however, will draw more attention to her musical career, which she plans to explore full time when her skiing days conclude.
For now, that will have to wait. The 30-year-old Maze made her priorities clear after Tuesday's win in the giant slalom, saying she wouldn't trade even one gold medal for Vanessa-Mae's 10 million in record sales.
"No," Maze said. "Are you crazy? I'm a sports person. For music, you're never too old. For sports? Yeah."
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