Most Indians don’t know much about the currently ongoing Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in South Korea; and even less about the Indians who are participating in it. This time around, there were two Indians participating in the winter Olympics in two disciplines: Shiva Keshavan in luge and Jagdish Singh in cross country skiing. In a hot country with few winter sport facilities, this is itself creditable.
Most of us don’t know; so a word about the sport: luge is a one or two person sled event where the luger lies supine and steers using his calf muscles and shoulders. Artificial tracks are used and lugers compete in one of the world's most precisely timed sports.
This is the first time he represented India at the Winter Olympics in luge. From Manali in Himachal Pradesh, Shiva is the son of a Keralite father and Italian mother. He won the Junior National Ski Championship in 1995 when he was just 14 years old. He attended a luge camp led by world champion Günther Lemmerer when he was 15 and the very next year, he qualified for the Olympics Games as the youngest person ever to qualify for the sport.
In December 2016, Keshvan won the gold medal at the Asian Luge Championship in Nagano in Japan. He also set a new Asian record and is the reigning Asian champion. He has participated in the Olympics 6 times.
Funding has been a recurrent problem faced by Keshavan; at one point his coach quit because the expenses of the Olympian athlete remained unpaid. Here is an Asian champion who remains unacknowledged by the authorities; whose name most Indians don’t know!
From Uttarakhand, Jagdish Singh is from a humble family and joined the Indian Army in 2011 to supplement the family income. He is now trained by Indian Army’s High Altitude Warfare School in Gulmarg, Jammu & Kashmir. This is the first time the 26 year old has qualified for the Olympics and he represented the country in the 15 km cross country skiing event.
Singh barely managed to qualify at the winter Olympic qualification event in Finland last year. The Indian Olympic Association does not recognize the Winter Games Federation of India; which makes it difficult for athletes like him to receive funding and other facilities and also creates a problem about coach appointments. Till the last moment Singh's coach was not finalized because of these problems and he had to miss his flight to attend the Winter Olympics. It is only because of the Indian army that the athlete is able to compete at the highest levels.
While neither of India’s representatives in the Winter Olympics won a medal, both men have the satisfaction of knowing that they competed with the best in spite of the odds. In a country that reveres only cricket, their level of skill is itself exemplary. If only India didn’t just have cricket lovers and had actual sports lovers instead!
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