India’s luge sensation: Shiva Keshavan
Shiva Keshavan. Every four years, this name’s rings into the memories of some very avid sports followers in India, before being reduced to just another name for the next four years. Who is he? What has he done to merit a place in the pantheon of India’s sporting elite, one wonders, a podium often crowded by a few male cricketers of yore.
Well, he is India’s only representative in the sport of luge for the upcoming Winter Olympics, 2018 at PyeongChang. In fact, he has been India’s sole flagbearer of the sport since making his debut in 1998 at the Nagano Olympics, where he became not only the sport’s youngest ever athlete as a 16 year old, but also India’s first ever luger representative at the Winter Olympics. Since then, he has represented India in four more Winter Olympics (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014) placing him amongst the nation’s sporting best, although hardly recognized by the larger public consciousness. Despite being India’s sole medal hope in the event, Keshavan has hardly received any financial assistance either from the Government or from the private sector throughout his career, paying all the overboard expenses related to his coaching, practice and travel largely from his own pocket.
He came perilously close to cancelling his stint at the 2018 Olympics due to the severe lack of funds, but a last ditch crowdfunding effort on social media by some sport enthusiasts followed by a subsequent mild but useful corporate sponsorship from HeroMotoCorp helped him ensure his participation in the event, which he touts to be his last effort at the Olympics. However, his previous finance crunch has affected him quite a bit as for over a year, he could not afford hiring a coach.
In his own words, “My coach Duncan Kennedy under whom I recently won a silver medal at the Asian Luge Championship commanded a salary of Rs 13 Lakhs a year. I had applied to the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) for help, they did allot me Rs 10 lakhs.I couldn’t garner the remaining amount either. He also saw a situation such as this coming up at some point, as none of his letters to the Indian government received a reply. Even Duncan’s dues are yet to be cleared, stuff such as travel, lodging etc. It’s a huge disappointment ahead of the Olympics, because our timings were getting better every day, and the equipment was also working fine.”
Shiva can ill afford to ruminate on such events of the past now while focusing his energy and dedication on the upcoming event, but once done, he can sit back and ruminate on a career largely well done. After making his debut at the 1998 Olympics with just a year’s worth of self-practice, Shiva continued to practise on his own well after his big break, without any quality sporting infrastructure. He used a makeshift luge, a sled whose blades he replaced with roller wheels. Because of the absence of any luge tracks in India, Shiva was forced to summon all of his courage and determination for the sport to luge down the perilous mountain roads and highways of the small Himalayan towns up north. This extreme level of devotion for the sport and never-say-die attitude eventually started to reap dividends when in 2011, he broke the Asian speed record with 134.3 kmph. In 2012, he continued his dream run to beat the Asian track record at a mere 49.5 seconds. Between 2005 and 2015, Shiva won 3 golds, 4 silvers and 2 bronzes at the Asia Cup and a further gold at the recently concluded Asian Championships in December 2017.
Despite the lack of support from the Indian Government, Shiva Keshavan have shown tremendous amount of perseverance and achieved success against all odds. It serves as an example for all Indian athletes struggling to gain a foothold in the world of sports. We just hope that the Indian government realizes the potential in its sportspersons soon enough, before the likes of Shiva Keshavan wear out and give in to the tyranny of apathy and hopelessness. We look forward to a brighter future for alternate sports in India.