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India at the Winter Olympics: The Shiva Keshavan story

Shiva Keshavan at the Luge Men's Singles on day two of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Over the last 20 years, the Indian contingent at the Winter Olympics – more often than not, a tiny one - had one constant name on the list: Shiva Keshavan. Keshavan competes in a sport few in India would know much about – luge. Given the lack of recognition winter sports get in India, it may remain an unfamiliar sport in the years to come. But in a country of over a billion, Keshavan has established himself as the sport’s flagbearer. At 36, he has retired from the sport after competing in his sixth Winter Olympics, currently under way in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

What is luge? The French word for “sledge”, luge has its origins in Switzerland. A luge rider hurtles down a slippery ice track at great speed, relying on the shoulder or legs for steering. A rider lies flat on his back, face up, and only lift his head slightly to see where he is going. There are plenty of risks involved because unlike bobsleigh, a rider has no protection if he makes an error. Luge events are either singles or doubles. Keshavan competes in the former.

As fascinating as the sport itself is the journey of Keshavan, ever since he fell in love with the sport as a schoolboy.

Born in 1981 in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, Keshavan was raised in a multicultural household that encouraged sport. His Italian mother and Kerala-origin father ran an adventure sports company. Keshavan and his brother studied in Sanawar where, as luck would have it, scouts from the International Luge Federation visited to spread awareness of the sport. Keshavan liked the adrenalin rush the sport entailed and was hooked. In luge, a heavier body weight produces greater speed. Keshavan had the attributes. It was the start of a tough journey ahead.

Signing off: Shiva Keshavan speeding down the luge circuit during his final race race at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang on Sunday.

Signing off: Shiva Keshavan speeding down the luge circuit during his final race race at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang on Sunday.  

 

With no proper luge track in the country, Keshavan had to do a lot of his training abroad. At home, though, he had to take the risk of training on Himalayan roads. A Youtube video shows clips of Keshavan using a modified sled with wheels instead of blades, meandering around cones placed on the road, racing past oncoming sheep, traffic, parked cars on either side and under a truck parked across the road for added thrills.

When not training, much of Keshavan’s time went towards finding sponsors to support his training and touring, with the Indian Olympic Association hardly forthcoming. His appearance at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi was made possible by a crowdfunding drive, and his jersey sported the names of all the donors.

In 1998, Keshavan, then 16, became the youngest ever to compete at luge at the Winter Olympics, at Nagano. The Japanese town has seen Keshavan bag several medals since, with a combined three gold, four silver and three bronze medals at the Asia Cup and Asian Championships since 2005. He also bagged a gold at the 2017 Asian Luge Championships in Altenberg, Germany.

At the Nagano Olympics, Keshavan was the lone Indian. In the same YouTube clip mentioned earlier, he told the Olympic Channel of how odd it felt walking at the opening ceremony, sandwiched between Italy and Great Britain with their strong contingents. The Jamaican team reached out to him and said, “Hey man. We’ve got to stick together.” That made him feel a lot better.

For years, Keshavan never had a personal coach and had to rely on advice from more established names in the sport. In the last few years, he was coached by American Duncan Kennedy, a former luge world champion.

In what turned out to be his final Olympic event at Pyeongchang, Keshavan clocked 48.900 seconds in his third-round heat. He finished 34th overall and since he finished outside the top 20, he did not get to compete in the final run, which decided the medals.

Keshavan may not have an Olympic medal, but over the last 20 years and in the years to come, it can be said with certainty that he will continue to be the first name that comes to mind in Indian winter sport.

Sources - ESPN.in, Olympic Channel, Wiki

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Printable version | Jan 14, 2021 11:45:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/india-at-the-winter-olympics-the-shiva-keshavan-story/article22732398.ece

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