India’s only participant at the Winter Olympics has an epic story to tell
Five Olympic Games and counting… the Indian luge champion is on for the sixth!
The year is 1998; an Indian athlete in mismatched clothes, ill-fitted shoes and borrowed equipment sits all by himself at the Olympic village in Nagano, Japan. It’s the Winter Olympics. There are massive teams from countries like America and France and then there’s Shiva Keshavan — the only one from India, and the youngest there at the age of 16.
How many of us have heard of luge? A luge is a sled on roller wheels on which a person lies supine and feet-first, and navigates using opposite shoulder pressure. Not for the faint-hearted! Imagine speeding at above 100 kmph, lying on a human-sized platform, unable to see ahead and just barely in control.
Part Keralite and part Italian, Shiva was an adventurous boy growing up in Himachal Pradesh. He was at home in the intimidating snowy slopes of the Himalayan hills and at 15, he joined a training camp and was selected to train for luge. In a year, he was the youngest Olympian at the 1998 Winter Olympics. Though he did not win, he carried the Indian flag alone at the closing ceremony, hinting that he will be coming back for the gold.
Shiva started winning medals a year after he discovered luge!
Shiva toiled for a year before his big break with no coach and no quality facilities to speak of. He used a makeshift luge; a sled whose blades had been replaced with roller wheels. Since there are no luge tracks in India, Shiva was daring enough to luge down the winding cliff-hugging Himalayan roads and highways. His determination that pushed him to make do with what he had, his passion for the sport and his fearless attitude started to pay off quickly. In 2011, he broke the Asian speed record with a whopping 134.3 kmph. In 2012, he beat the Asian track record at a mere 49.5 seconds. Between 2005 and 2015, Shiva has won 3 golds, 4 silvers and 2 bronzes at the Asia Cup, Nagano in the luge event, and another gold at the Asian Championship last year.
Lack of a coach and next to no funding threaten to pose obstacles…
Even for his first Olympics, Shiva had to borrow the luge he competed on. Since then, Shiva has taken part in the Olympics five times despite being unable to hire a coach. There was never enough money. He has tried obtaining support from multiple sources, but has not been able to find any steady endower. In 2014, after competing internationally for over a decade, he was appointed a coach for the first time. Duncan Kennedy, the former technical director of the American Luge team coached Shiva for over a year before had to discontinue as he hadn’t received a year’s salary. Last year, Shiva had to pull out of the Luge World Championship in Germany due to lack of funds.
…but Shiva’s love for the sport and his country pushes him on!
Shiva still continues to train and compete today despite the lack of funds. He was offered an Italian citizenship, world class equipment and facilities to train, and a regular stipend to represent the country in Luge — and he refused on patriotic grounds. In 2014, India had been banned from participating in the Sochi Winter Olympics. Shiva took part as an independent contender, but when he bore the names of his Indian supporters on his uniform, he made India’s unspoken presence clear.
Shiva still cannot afford independently owned equipment or a full-time coach, but intends to show up fully prepared to win the gold at the next winter Olympics. Shiva has proved a point about his potential. You can help fuel his dream here.
Written by Divya Kilikar.