Shiva Keshavan: India’s lion in winter


Written by Gaurav Bhatt
Printed: January 14, 2018 1:14 am

Shiv Keshavan making his sixth look within the Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang, essentially the most for an Indian and second solely to Leander Paes (7) if Summer season Olympics is taken into consideration. (Illustration: Subrata Dhar)

“This is the last one,” luger Shiva Keshavan informs, with out a trace of trepidation in his voice. No traces of bitterness both, at the same time as he provides, “I would like to continue but it is not feasible now.”

In 25 days, Keshavan shall be in PyeongChang for his sixth and last Olympics, essentially the most for Winter Video games from India, and subsequent solely to Leander Paes (7) if Summers are additionally taken into consideration. In brief, he has been at it lengthy sufficient to know that being indignant gained’t win him any medals, despite the fact that he has each proper to take action.

His approval for presidency funding — “a very new feeling for me” — got here in December, after Keshavan turned to Twitter. “Apparently my file is still waiting on TOPS approval before it can come before Mission Olympic Cell. 6 probable Winter Olympians waiting on funds, some have had to skip events and I may have to as well. 2 months before Olympics (sic),” Keshavan posted from Winterberg.

“It gets tiring on the road. Making last-second plans, getting a car, booking a hotel, holding my breath because I might miss crucial events,” says Keshavan. “That day, I had no money to book tickets to World Cup events.”

Stranded alone in a chilly, sleepy German city, 6,000km from house, with nothing within the pocket however maxed-out bank cards, Keshavan confronted the query that has dogged mankind for generations: “Why do I do what I do?”

For twenty years, Keshavan has hurtled himself down an icy concrete chute, going 130kmph with out brakes and pulling extra Gs via the corners than an astronaut throughout a rocket launch. And that’s the straightforward half. Making his manner again to the beginning line every time has been an Olympic problem.


Shiva Keshavan reached the report velocity of 149.9 kmph in 2010, making him the quickest luger in Asia.

The yr was 1997, and VHS tapes of Cool Runnings — a heavily-fictionalised account of the Jamaican bobsled staff’s journey to Calgary Video games — had been nonetheless doing the rounds, 4 years after the movie’s launch. The Worldwide Luge Federation took discover, and pushed to incorporate extra far-flung, warm-weather international locations within the Winter Video games. A staff, led by Austrian world champion Gunther Lemmerer, arrange a scouting camp in Panchkula and found a proficient younger skier from Manali who had little hassle rolling down the roads on a sled with wheels. He was taken to Austria and a yr later, Shiva Keshavan, 16, grew to become the youngest Olympian in luge on the Nagano Winter Video games.

Military officer Tilak Himalyan, one of many handful chosen for the camp in Austria, remembers his time spent with Keshavan.

“It sounds cliched now, but even all those years ago, I saw something different in Shiva. There were others who made it to the camp. But going down the street on wheels is one thing. They were shaking when they saw the intimidating ice track and many didn’t turn up the next day. Luge requires a lot of heart. Shiva was having fun. Mujhe pata tha ye nahi hatne waala,” says Himalyan, a national-level skier who needed to put his desires on ice indefinitely resulting from his advancing years and the decision of responsibility.

“I was 40 and had no real future in sport. Then Kargil happened and I had to stop competing. If I had got the opportunity when I was 18-19, who knows,” provides Himalyan, who’s now posted in Leh with the mountain rescue staff. “We practised a lot together and Shiva was always looking to improve himself. Utne saalo se hamari baat nahi ho paayi hai, but when I read that he is still competing and preparing for another Olympics, it doesn’t surprise me.”

Again in 1998, Nagano for his first, Keshavan was a child in a sweet retailer.

“I had seen Olympics on TV, but I had never anticipated the magnitude of the event,” recollects Keshavan. “Amused athletes from different nations were coming in to check this lone luger from India. But I remember being strangely relaxed, even in front of the packed stadium.”

Not to mention the stadium, he nearly couldn’t make it into the Video games Village.

“The mayor of Nagano told me I couldn’t be allowed in the Village because my country hadn’t sent the paperwork,” Keshavan laughs. He ultimately competed with an outsized jacket anyone had given him and a hand-me-down sled. “I guess I was so young that I didn’t get affected by anything. Performance-wise, it remains one of my best races.”

However paucity of funds ensured that he couldn’t construct on a reputable debut, or personal a aggressive sled which prices upwards of Rs eight lakh.

“For many years, I would borrow or rent a sled for the race or training. I would train on my own, because I didn’t have a coach. I would save up on car rentals and flights, asking for lifts from one place to another. Other teams would fly, and send their equipment on a bus. I would hitch a ride on the bus to reach the venue,” says Keshavan. “I’ve had to sleep in parked cars, to not go to a hotel. When you’re in that position, you do what you can.”

Particulars of the commute to his subsequent Olympics are equally anxiety-inducing. After arriving late in Montreal owing to a flight delay, Keshavan missed the bus to Salt Lake Metropolis, the venue for the 2002 Video games. He hitchhiked his method to the US border however couldn’t muster up $10 for the border price, and a policeman needed to pitch in.

He arrived in Vancouver for 2010 Video games along with his solitary sled, and a bone in his again, damaged. Including insult had been the mismatched, awful uniforms despatched for the Indian contingent. A neighborhood sporting items producer donated uniforms whereas 5 Supreme Court docket attorneys pooled Rs four.5 lakh to assist him purchase a brand new sled.

Numerous such tales from the highway meant India’s best winter athlete additionally grew to become the poster boy for crowd-funding within the nation. In Sochi, pressured to compete below the Olympic flag, Keshavan rode downhill with names of 50,000 donors etched on his go well with. “The sponsors and the people who’ve taken me places are always on my mind. It’s very humbling, knowing how I am a small piece of a very big picture.”

Keshavan nevertheless acknowledges sportsperson can’t put up a problem within the higher echelons on the again of fundraising alone.

“Hiring a foreign coach is $4-5,000 a month. Ideally, you’d need a technician and a physiotherapist too. There’s the sled. Then you pay for the flights and hotels for everyone. With a proper team travelling around the world, you can spend anywhere between Rs1-2 cr per annum. To a layman it might sound a lot but it’s the standard cost for all sports and government should know it very well.”

Physiotherapists and technicians are luxuries reserved for athletes from Germany, Austria, Italy, USA or every other nation which takes the game severely. Keshavan has needed to be a human Swiss military knife, taking inventory and enhancing himself throughout the low season. Summers are spent zipping down the winding highways within the Himalayan foothills on a wheeled sled, swerving via site visitors and cattle with the chutzpah of an SUV driver in Delhi. An in depth body weight routine takes care of bulking up (90kg is sufficiently heavy) and sustaining explosive energy. Then there are the classes spent modifying and calibrating his experience within the storage, as a substitute of a multi-million greenback Components One wind tunnel.

Placing collectively a customized sled for an elite luger is, nicely, rocket science. Groups collaborate with F1 groups, automobile producers or different tech giants to trace their ‘drag coefficient sonification’, optimise materials mixture and rider place. Such labeled, aerodynamic masterpieces will help a rider shave off ‘100thofasec’, the distinction between Keshavan and the riders above (and thus, his Twitter deal with).

Keshavan admits that he has by no means been in a wind tunnel, and hasn’t been in a position to excite the Indian firms and producers for a joint mission. Regardless of all that, he was feeling supremely assured within the run-up to Sochi.

“I was feeling really good about the sled. I did a lot of experimentation and I thought all the changes would get me my fastest time.”

As an alternative, he crashed and recovered (a surprising second which made the spotlight reels) throughout a apply session, and completed 37th, his lowest place ever.

“I got my setup completely wrong. That’s where I realised if I had to do well, I need somebody to help me out with the equipment.”

Olympian Duncan Kennedy, who took a cursory look at Keshavan’s sled and remarked, “this is stuff we were doing 20 years ago”, determined to staff up with the Indian.

“After leaving my position as technical director of US Luge, Shiva and I talked a few times and decided to team up,” Kennedy advised The Indian Categorical. “In Sochi, he had some issues with body stability and position, which looked to me like he had developed these habits from compensating for a sled that wasn’t fun to drive. The first order of business was to build him a sled that would restore his confidence.”

Kennedy (like Keshavan’s first coach Yann Fricheteu) needed to cut up throughout a very extreme monetary crunch, however has rejoined Keshavan for his final hurrah.

“Duncan has been with me for the last two weeks. It’s an interesting arrangement we have,” stated Keshavan. “He has stood by me through thick and thin. But taking care of a team is difficult when you don’t get the promised funding and have to make last-minute plans.”


It didn’t take lengthy for Keshavan to understand that chilly shoulders are an occupational hazard for a winter athlete in India.

“There have been instances when I had to explain what I do, who I am to the administrators. To them, Winter Olympics weren’t The Olympics. When you see how even Olympic sports have been obscure in India, of course Winter Olympics is in an even worse position.”

Deliver up the narrative of India being a tropical nation and thus not conducive to winter coaching and Keshavan shuts it down exhausting.

“There’s no other country in the world which has the natural resources for winter sports like India. There’s 3,000km of Himalayan mountains. Experts from all over the world dream of coming to India to practise. Why are we not working on infrastructure so that our kids can take on the world? Look how removed Himachal, Kashmir, Uttarakhand and North East are from your Delhis and Bombays. Why can’t we use winter sports, a multi-million dollar industry, as a means of development?”

However whereas the attention about his trigger nonetheless eludes the corridors of energy, Keshavan is keen to seek out refuge within the silver linings.

“When I was stranded penniless in Germany, all it took was a call to the sports minister and he assured we are all behind you,” says Keshavan. “With (Rajyavardhan Singh) Rathore heading the ministry, at least the athletes can go and say what they want. He has seen it all and has had his own struggles. I would like to play a similar role from the outside.”

It’s no secret that Keshavan harbours administrative ambitions, and has fairly a resume to boast. Six Olympics, 9 Asian Championship medals (4 gold), president of the Olympians’ Affiliation of India. Extra spectacular is the sensible acumen. Common amongst friends for his infectious vitality and street-smart expertise, the Indian luger-cum-backpacker is sought out by many in want.

“After all these years, there is a lot of respect in the international community,” says Keshavan. “Younger athletes from other countries come to me for advice. Especially those who are struggling, or don’t have resources. I can identify with them.”

Keshavan, who by his personal admission is anxious in regards to the post-retirement transition — “I am 36, and have never had a professional career. It is going to be tough” — is keen to step in for the athletes again house.

“You need somebody to be between the government and athlete. Somebody who has seen the sport and lived the life,” says Keshavan. “I do not want the next generation of athletes to worry about getting warm food on their plate or figuring out a place to sleep next night. They should have the best equipment and concentrate on the job at hand. That can only happen when they don’t feel alone.”


Throughout his journey, Keshavan has assembled a small staff of his personal. A staff supervisor in spouse Namita and a mascot in two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Omna.

“When I met Namita, I was out of the sport because I had no money. She quit her job and started looking for sponsors for me, organising crowd-funding. It is motivating, that you can feel good about what you’re doing, that your family can come over and be with you and watch the races. They’ve been with me for a week now, but the five months before were tough. I was alone, so far away from home but even for them, especially for the little one.”

“The little one”, with a fascination for luge paraphernalia.

“She sees helmets, visors, other equipment lying around and she picks it up and brings them to me. She recognises what I do. I suspect she has started a little early,” Keshavan guffaws.

For now, the highlight is solely on Keshavan Sr. Although the 45th rating in World Cup standings is lower than stellar, thanks to a couple missed occasions, Keshavan is feeling hopeful and having fun with the circulation.

“It has been a memorable journey. I did it and loved every moment of it. And everything has come full circle, from Nagano to PyeongChang. Not only am I back in Asia, but I am feeling relaxed, like I was for the first run. I can allow myself to be a little carefree.”

Virtually like he has nothing to luge.

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