Peculiarly, some chose to describe it as a proud moment for India. Shiva Keshavan, on a practice run at the recently concluded 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, slipped off his luge while moving at nearly 100 kilometres per hour; only to regain his place on the sled and complete the race.
The accident’s video was shared extensively on the internet as many were baffled by his recovery. Keshavan’s brilliance, though, failed to mask the danger he had battled away.
“I had two options (when he fell off the luge) — let the sled go or try to get back on it. I chose the latter because I wanted to finish the race. Otherwise, I would have been disqualified,” says Keshavan. The accident was followed by a response that spoke volumes of Keshavan’s desperation and determination.
In some ways, the entire incident is symptomatic of the battles the Indian luger has fought over the past 17 years.
In a sport where, according to Keshavan, the quality of equipment could impact your chances up to 40 per cent, the 31-year-old is at a severe disadvantage.
He manufactures his own luge. Contrast this with his Italian or German counterparts — their equipment is manufactured by Ferrari, Porsche et al.
In fact, the accident occurred because of alterations made to the luge in order to gain greater speed. Keshavan revealed that he was psychologically prepared for it, as difficulties had been experienced during previous runs. Eventually, the defect was repaired and Keshavan finished 37th.
While he had aimed to feature among the top 20 and this was his worst finish across his five Olympic appearances, there was a sense of realism as he assessed his performance.
“When I look back at it, analytically, with the kind of support and equipment I have, there’s only so much I can achieve. Even if I had finished among the top 20, it’s not enough. The aim should be to finish in the first three positions,” says Keshavan.
Yet, there’s conspicuous optimism as the youngest ever Olympic luger talks about the growing interest in luge in India. Keshavan regularly receives mails from fans across the country.
However, the biggest impediment to his or any other Indian’s success is the unrealised recognition of the Indian Amateur Luge Association (IALA) by the Ministry of Sports. This creates a paucity of funds. Keshavan, though, was satisfied with the Indian Olympic Association’s (IOA) response when he met a few officials on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, until the IALA is recognised, many Indian lugers will continue to fall off the sport’s bandwagon.
Only the “crazy” ones, as Keshavan calls himself, will endure.