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March 2002

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Letter from U.S.A.

Shiva Keshavan 

 

  Lone Indian at Winter Games

 

By R. Srinivasan

GlobalomNet Media Service

 

 

For Shiva Keshavan, now 20, at Salt Lake City Olympics this year was a ‘replay’ of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan in 1998.

 

Out of the 2,500 athletes taking part in the winter Olympic Games, Shiva Keshavan is India's lone representative. He was one of the proudest athletes at the Olympic opening ceremonies carrying India’s flag. As India's only athlete in Nagano, Shiva carried his country's flag. "I'm carrying it for millions of people," he had said in 1998. "I can't express how incredible that is."  He is the youngest person in the event called the luge.  

At Salt Lake City, Shiva’s mother, Rosalina said that Shiva was very disappointed that no Indian journalist was present. "He feels very sad that the Indian people do not know anything about him," she said. "Those who were present have been very curious about how an Indian can practise this sport."

 

Luge is a French word for sled. It can be traced back to Vikings who played it in 800 A.D. The first international sled race took place in 1883 in Davos, Switzerland. However, it made its Olympic debut in 1964. To explain it to a layman, it involves hurtling down an icy track at a frighteningly fast speed on a hi-tech, fibre-glass sled. The Olympic competition consists of four races and the athlete who gets the maximum points is declared the winner.  

 

Shiva, son of Malayali Sudhakaran Keshavan, who married an Italian, Rosalina Lucioli, got hooked to luge by chance. "He was interested in winter sports like skiing and skating," said his mother. Shiva got his lucky break in 1997 when the International Luge Federation went looking for athletes in Asia.

 

A few invitations landed in Lawrence School, Sanawar, where Shiva was then studying. Nobody in his school had any idea about the sport and since he hailed from the 'Himalayas', Shiva's family is based in Manali, and knew skiing, his name was put up. He was already a good skier and was selected for the luge training scheme.

 

Shiva, 15, underwent training in a selection camp consisting of 34 probables under the watchful eye of Austrian luge great Gunter Lemmerere. Shiva did well to impress Lemmerere in his dry run on an asphalt road and was chosen to attend a coaching course in Austria in November 1997. He then took part in the World Championships in Innsbruck as a test runner.

 

At 16, when he was at Nagano in 1998, the spotlight was on him from the CBS and the BBC for a short while. Shiva, with less than four months of actual luge training under his belt, finished the singles competition a respectable 28th, ahead of every Asian competitor except one Japanese slider.  

Back in India, he got no recognition or help. With some help from the Indian Amateur Luge Association (IALA), Shiva persevered on. He was even denied admission by the top colleges in Delhi through sports quota, on the premise that he plays an unknown sport. That he was also the captain of the hockey team at the Lawrence School, Sanawar, did not cut much ice. "It did not matter that I was an Olympian. I realised that if you play cricket you are god, otherwise..."

After losing a year in academics, Shiva knew he had just one way out - study abroad and try raising money to compete there. Even the Indian Olympic Association failed to get him an Indian Olympic Committee (IOC) sponsorship to study and train abroad.  

 

Shiva is now studying at the University of Florence in Italy. His Italian mother helped him get admission there. "I'm staying with my grandparents and trying to fix up something with the Italian team so that I can train with them. In fact, the world champion Armin Zoggeller is an Italian,' he said.  

 

In the meantime, he kept competing and participated in two World Cups - at Salt Lake City and Lake Placid - and the World Championships in Calgary last season and qualified once again for the Olympics.  

 

For the 20-year-old, who has struggled to stay alive in a sport dominated by the Italians, Germans and Austrians, qualifying for Olympics is a big step.  

 

From a chance, bumpy run in a makeshift sled on the slopes of Himachal, when an FIL coach came talent hunting five years ago, Shiva has come a long way. Racing at the speed of around 150kmph, he is now ready to break further barriers.