Shiva Keshavan has quite a story to tell. For the uninitiated, the Manali-born athlete is a six-time Olympian and India’s only Winter Olympic participant in luge. With almost no official funding and unrecognised federations proving futile, Keshavan finished 36th in the men’s luge competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics, bringing the curtains down on an almost two-decade long career. Also Read - Kim warns N Korea could consider change of tack
Now that the dust has settled, Keshavan, known as the fastest Asian on ice, is focussed on creating an awareness about winter sports in the country. “The investments are starting to come in from the ministry (to promote winter sports), I think that was the missing link,” Keshavan begins his chat on the sidelines of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Sports Summit in Mumbai on Wednesday. Also Read - China to punish athletic doping as criminal offence: state media
For an athlete, who at 14, had not even heard of luge, yet gave it a shot when he first came across it and was successful, Keshavan’s story can be gripping especially when you hear it from the man himself. Also Read - Flash floods kill 6 in southern Russia; 1 missing
“I’ve had to deal with tough challenges. I’ve had to make my own sled, train on my own since I didn’t have a coach and would save up on car rentals and flights and ask for lifts from one place to another when other teams would fly and send their equipment on a bus,” Keshavan said.
“I have been participating in winter sports for over 20 years and there is not a single winter sports federation recognised by the Sports Ministry. It is incredible to think of that how did I qualify for six Olympics without a federation being recognised, which also means that I was not funded. Well, I won’t wish for other athletes to go what I have gone through, so let’s hope there is a better Shiva Keshavanan.”
Turning a fresh leaf to administration, Keshavan believes a prolific winter sports ecosystem can be created in India for which the Himalayan region – areas like Kashmir – can best be explored. “At five meters below sea-level, Netherlands has 130 medals at the Winter Olympics and we (India) are at the roof of the world, but are yet to open an account (in terms of medals at Winter Olympics),” he said.
He then cited an example of how talent in Kashmir can be used for the sport which can eventually change the discourse in the politically tarnished region.
“A lot of athletes who I have met, people who have strong emotions, anger in them. They can be that much more successful since they have something to prove and can prove it in a non-destructive way. Look at the Black movement in Africa, athletes showed the world that they too deserve respect. So, if we can channel these emotions that way, then it will be better for the country, conversations will change, but you need to support, help and build that basic infrastructure,” Keshavan added.
Talking about infrastructure, Keshavan has plans to set up his own academy. “My idea is to have a residential complex with all the multi-sports facilities and then, since it’s in the mountains, we will have access to the ski area, ice hockey. It can be built over time. I’m speaking to a couple of state governments to give a little bit of land or get some private player. The land often is expensive, so initially to start something, you need some idea from the government, so that we don’t face any problem for permission. By doing so, India can become a hub in the region,” he said.
Keshavan’s next innings too has few challenges, but he certainly can take heart from the fact that he’s had to overcome plenty of them while carving a niche for himself during his career on ice.
“100 per cent, India can win a medal in the Winter Olympic. I could have won a medal if I had a coach few years before, by the end of it I was 6/10th of a second behind, so it is possible,” he concluded.