Olympics-Alpine skiing-Champions excited by Mae's debut


By Alan Baldwin

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia, Feb 17 (Reuters) - When it comes to Olympic skiing, violin virtuoso Vanessa Mae may be more like an amateur plucking away on a one-stringed banjo than a professional slalomer but some of the sport's biggest names are thrilled to have her competing.

The 35-year-old makes her Games debut on Tuesday representing Thailand in the giant slalom, the only discipline she is entered for after meeting the qualifying standard with a late flurry of races last month.

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Completing both legs will be no small achievement for the diminutive Singapore-born musician, whose fame far exceeds most of those competing for the medals.

And while she will not win any prizes for performance, she can expect plenty of attention at the finish.

"Of course I'm excited. It's nice to see such a great musician take part in our sport and hopefully reach a good result," Germany's 2010 giant slalom gold medallist Viktoria Rebensburg told reporters.

Compatriot Maria Hoefl-Riesch, a triple gold medallist who won the 2010 Olympic slalom title, was also delighted to be in the same race - at least on paper.

"I find it thrilling that people like that (are here)," she said.

"When you see Vanessa Mae, she's so small and fragile, you can't imagine how she can finish a run like that or even hit a gate. Babsie (team mate Barbara Wirth) told us that she didn't do so badly and we'll be watching closely."

Wirth, the 24-year-old slalom specialist who is also making her Olympic debut on Tuesday, trained with Zermatt-based Mae in the Swiss Alpine resort last summer and spoke warmly of the experience.

"In the beginning it was a little strange and then it was a nice moment because she's a great musician and you think 'How great that someone like that trains with us'," she said.

"And then the reaction was actually the other way round. She was totally happy that she was allowed to train with us and that was a nice moment.

"It was interesting how ambitious she is and it's good to see that someone like that starts in our race and is brave enough and bothers with the preparation for a race like that. That's impressive," added the German.

Mae, a British citizen competing under her natural father's name of Vanakorn, started skiing at the age of four and will be only the third person to represent Thailand at the Winter Olympics.

She made her mark on the musical stage by breaking from tradition with a sexy, glamorous violin style that mixes classical with pop.

Her first techno pop-style album. "The Violin Player', was released in 1995 and reached number 11 in the UK albums chart, selling more than 10 million copies worldwide. (Additional reporting by Annika Breidthardt, editing by Mitch Phillips)

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