4 suspended for rigging Vanessa-Mae results
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) - Four Slovenian ski officials were suspended Friday for allegedly rigging the results of pop violinist Vanessa-Mae to help her qualify for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Competing in Sochi for Thailand as Vanessa Vanakorn, using the surname of her Thai father, she finished a distant last among the 67 racers who completed the two runs in the Olympic giant slalom.
To earn enough points to be eligible for the games in February, she had to compete in official races in Sweden, Norway, Slovenia and Switzerland.
The Slovenian Ski Association said Friday it found evidence indicating that the races it hosted in January were "fixed at the behest of Thai ski officials to meet her qualifying criteria for Sochi."
The Slovenian association president, Jurij Zurej, said the suspected irregularities included falsification of times and rankings.
"The starting list included a person who did not even compete, a racer who fell was registered as finishing high in the standings," Zurej said. "In addition, the dates of the competitions did not match the actual state when the races were held."
Zurej said that Vanessa-Mae might not have known about the violations at the time.
Her representatives did not immediately respond to telephone calls and emails from The Associated Press seeking comment about the allegations.
Zurej said Vanessa-Mae competed in four races in Slovenia on Mount Krvavec in January. According to the official reports sent to the International Ski Federation, known as FIS, two events took place on Jan. 17. But the races actually took place the following day, according to Zurej.
The two other races took place on Jan. 19, including one which served as the Thai national championship.
"In a document for one of the races, a competitor is mentioned who actually did not race," Zurej said.
"In another race, one competitor said she fell," Zurej said. "However, according to the documents sent to FIS, she took second place. There are also indications that the timings were wrong."
According to the reports sent to FIS, Vanessa-Mae finished 10th, 9th, 7th and 6th in the four consecutive races in Slovenia, which mainly involved Slovenian junior competitors.
FIS president Gian Franco Kasper said he was "disappointed" by the alleged cheating but that no action could be taken until the Slovenian association completes its inquiry.
"We have told the Slovenian ski federation that for the time being they should go into the details and find out what their own people did and determine domestic sanctions," Kasper told The Associated Press. "Then we will decide what we have to do on our side. ... We have no proof for the time being."
The 35-year-old Vanessa-Mae, who was born in Singapore and raised in Britain, clocked her two Olympic runs in a total of 3 minutes, 26.97 seconds - 50.1 seconds slower than gold medalist Tina Maze of Slovenia.
"She was not the best skier," Kasper said. "I think you have seen that."
After completing her race in Sochi, Vanessa-Mae likened the Olympics to "the greatest show on earth."
"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 at the time.
Vanessa-Mae also competed in races in Sweden, Norway and Italy before the Sochi Games but no cheating was reported from those events.
"As far as we have been informed this was something just in Slovenia with a special race that she needed for the necessary points," Kasper said.
The Slovenian association has proposed four-year suspensions for the four officials involved in the organization of the races, including Vlado Makuc, the head of the country's Alpine skiing body. The findings of the investigation will also be forwarded to the Slovenian police.
The scandal is also awkward for International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who was photographed with Vanessa-Mae in Sochi and recently named her as an outside expert on an IOC working group on culture policy.
"This is primarily a matter for the Slovenian Ski Federation and eventually FIS," an IOC spokeswoman, Emmanuelle Moreau, told the AP.