You can make anything by writing – CS Lewis
He is the fastest Indian on the ice. Shiva Keshavan has participated four times in Winter Olympics and has recently won a gold medal for lunge in Asia Cup. Unfortunately, country doesn’t know much about the champion and the game he plays. Society gives a low down.
Shiva Keshavan was sitting with his wife Namita in hotel lobby as relaxed as one can be. So are the people around him, not knowing that next to them is a star seated. He made country proud by winning the Asia Cup few months back in Japan, which is first in any winter sports for India. I wonder how the situation would have been if a cricketer was seating there. Never the less a victor will always be what he is no matter people know him or not. “When I took up this game I knew that there is no glamour or money. It was just the love for this game,” with a smile says the champ.
It was not by accident that he ends up with this unknown sport called Luge but he was destine for it. He was born to a south Indian father and Italian mother in a small village called Vashisht in Manali, a perfect place for winter sports. “I grew up skiing, sledging and doing lots of adventure activities. I was picked up by Austrian world champion Gunther Lemmerer. I was a selected along with a boy for training in Europe.” That’s how it all began.
According to 30 years old luger, it was not a joy ride. “When I was selected by talent scout they sponsored me for two years. After that I was nominated by Indian Olympic Association where I won a scholarship. However it was difficult to maintain the standard of equipments or coach in comparison to the other international players, with that amount of money. There was a time when I used to work in summer and used up all the saving in the winter in my training. We went door to door looking for sponsorship,” looking at his wife. “Sometimes people used to laugh at us when we explain them how it is played. Even government authorities were confused to count it as a sports or not.”
As they say there is light at the end of the tunnel. “It went on till 2008, and then we get the first sponsorship from Swiss Airlines and Limca Book of World Records. As soon as they came on board, I was able to win my first medal, a bronze in Asian Championship that year itself. After that, I went on to win silver medal in 2009-10 winters and then gold recently.” With some change in the tone, “It’s been a gradual journey, one step at the time. Today I have Reebok as my technical sponsors and in 2011 I have signed MTS as title sponsor.”
So what is this game really about? “Basically it’s highly sophisticated and high speed form of sledging. Its track is like one and half kilometer long ice track. One has to go down on the track lying on back and feet first. You turn using your legs, shifting the body weight and coordinating your movement. It can reach up to the speed of 150 km/hour. While going down the slope we generate up to 7 g-force (gravitational force). Which is quite high, even the jet fighters also reach up to 6 or 7 g.” Does it have any engine to achieve that kind of speed? “There is no engine power, so the initial propulsion is your muscle power. We have slope and centrifugal force which we channelize to get the forward movement.” Is this game expensive? “It is not that expensive if you compare it with Formula 1 or some other sports. But Luge isn’t that cheap game, sled and equipments can go up to five lakh,” tells the champion about his trade.
But it must be hurting when you come home wining for the nation and still people don’t acknowledge you. “I think media has a lot to do about this. For example when people were tired of Indian team loosing test match in Australia they were still in the front page. On the other hand Leander Paes won the Australian doubles title and went on to play mixed double final but he was hardly seen. I do love watching cricket and I know that we were world number one. But let’s not forget that there is only seven or eight test playing nations. But in other sports player compete with a lot more teams or players.” Then he changes the gear from bad to good experiences. “Where ever we go around the globe there are always some Indians who come out and show their support. Like when we were in Canada or Japan the number of people that come to us and invite to host us, is heartening. Gradually people are giving response to us which is very good for the game. Even government is asking to send application so that they can fund us.” Keshavan knowing that it’s a new sport and need youngsters to carry it forward. “I am working on many aspects to make winter games popular and bring in more youngsters into these games. Like we have started The Alpine Premier League this February and with the help of Himachal government we are planning to build tracks in Solang, Manali and Alakanda.”
Other then his game Shiva does lots of interesting things. “We have Italian restaurant ‘Rose Garden’ in Manali. Out here people hardly come, so we love to see new faces around. You are most welcome anytime. I spent most of my time in my restaurant if I am not playing or training.” Namita who take cares of all his needs adds, “He loves to read Manga (Japanese comics characters), photography and mountaineering.” After which they shares a quick smile and glance at each other. But right now he is all into getting an Olympic gold medal. “I’ll be going to Japan for training. Though it doesn’t matter which game it is, a gold medal is a gold metal for a sport person. There is nothing more then that or less then that.” One another good reason for him to perform well in Olympic is reveled by his better half, “our plan is no baby till an Olympic gold medal.”
All the best Shiva Keshavan the lone and only lunger of India.
( Published in Society March ’12, Page.No.64 & Mandate Aug ’12, Page No. 134)